by Mark Hall
“There is a fountain…”
These words open a lovely old hymn of restoration and hope. Winters have always been for me a season both hated and loved; loved for the way I hated them, and conversely, hated for the way I loved them. In its ragged, biting coldness, I am wounded afresh, and in turn, magnificently mended and healed for another season ahead. In these days, I make what I can of the meager daylight hours, and the better temperatures of days above forty degrees to get out of my home, and wander my land. There has always been a holy sense of connectedness for me to my mere four acres here in Oklahoma, and I never cease discovering wonders that would make a National Geographic crew green with envy. This is also the time to check fluid levels, air tires and start things, drag extension cords, air hoses and battery chargers out, and grease stuff on warmer days. I leave my house, armed with my large Stanley, full of coffee, creamer, and a “wee dram” of good Irish whisky, in a backpack along with some other goodies, and my two-meter radio. Like most mechanical things, I tend to need a judicious application of “antifreeze” to get underway, when cold. Layered not only for warmth but also for padding, lest my pudgy self decides to take a tumble, I take up a driftwood walking staff and, looking like a camouflaged old wizard, start my noble odyssey. There isn’t anything that escapes my attention. The birds are making a merry racket, and the big fox squirrels are running from tree to tree, when they’re not leaping limb from limb. A Springfield .40 S&W is staying a nice, toasty 98.6 degrees in a chest pocket, in case of surprises. But I don’t think there will be any. Nonetheless, as the Beatles would have it: “Happiness is a warm gun.” I heartily concur.
Retrieving a small note pad and pen I make notes in transit. I’m still in “Low 1” range, moving with all the grace and speed of a Tattooine Sandcrawler in Star Wars. I take notes that ramble like leaves caught in an eddy of wind between fence and outbuilding. No one reads them but me, so form ain’t so critical, and spelling ins’t eether. There are a bunch of things I’ll be doing over the next few weeks. My little Ford tractor, which I dubbed “The Mechanical Jackass,” starts after a dose of ether, and after a few sooty backfires from the tailpipe, he’s up and clearing his lungs. Tires are OK. My school bus? Nope. “Wide Wanda” isn’t going to say squat. The battery charger is connected to both cord and battery, and all fluid levels are OK. I’ll be back to crank her up later. I shut off the tractor and continue southward toward the property line, and the end of my little Shire.
Crossing my pasture, and looking at fence lines, I startle a couple of rabbits, who waste no time making their exit. They have nothing to fear, though. I have some of their domesticated cousins in my freezer.
The patch where I planted corn waits for me to dig it up. Further back, I notice two trees that I knew would succumb to the winter and die. Taking out a roll of florescent plastic tape, I tie pieces of it around the trunks of trees and brush I will have to take down. I follow a stream that crosses my property and find the tracks of raccoon, possum, and coyote. After crossing the stream, I find turkey tracks, and I’m happy. They are making a comeback, and I hope they stay.
Following the fence line once again, I come back out into an open area of grass, now brown and beaten down by the winter. This is near the end of my property, and I have a two-passenger ladder tree stand in a large tree nearby. Testing its metal, then testing my mettle, I gingerly climb up into the stand to survey my kingdom, as the sun deems to grace me with a bit of a ray through the soft down of cloud cover.
Pouring myself a cup of coffee, I take out my radio and call to a local repeater, to see how many other liars like me are awake and on the air at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I hear the repeater identify its callsign in Morse code, followed by continued silence. I respond, in case someone is reaching for their coffee pot and turning their radio on, with “Kilo Echo Five Lima India Bravo, monitoring,” and then I leave the sleeping world to its own devices. I love how quiet this “office” is.
While in my perch, I sketch out how I will prepare a food plot for deer. My trail cameras have been recording movement for several months now, and the thought of having a nice little place where I can hunt appeals to me. I never hunt public land, for good reason. I’m really allergic to lead in flying form. Finding a hunting lease I can afford has been an impossible dream. After two cups of coffee, I am actually a bit more flexible, and I descend from my perch a bit more gracefully than I ascended. Following the fence line back to my shop and barn, I notice wisps of fur in the barbwire here and there. All deer-colored, of course. Then I see something that makes me grind to a halt: In the brown, dry grass, ahead of me, little dark green spears are pushing defiantly upward toward the hard, gray sky. Several more clumps are nearby, and in spite of remnants of snow, they too have defied the resistance of the cold, hard earth, in a paean of praise and honor to One Who defines all things, times and seasons. I know that I will return here over the next few days, when more of their plucky little kin will make their presence known to winter, and will offer a burst of color to make it ashamed—whites pure as the light of the sun, yellow as beautiful as its warming rays, and the deepest purples to attest that even the night can’t keep the day and hope of spring away. The little crocuses, tiny witnesses to the Resurrection Hope and the coming of spring, in the earth, and in the human heart.