Hunter: 'Sauce, canned meat? Let's eat!'
They stand in unison. It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday in January, and the three men are in their usual places inside this store.
The store is down the road and at the intersection and off the main road and as far as a crow flies and there is no Internet here.
They are young, compared to dirt. They have hands that are calloused and their eyes show age, and they have thin blood and white hair and they smell of old clocks. They come here to talk about the way it was and the way it might be. They talk old dogs and old guns and new trucks and who is sick and the land that is being timbered and the fields where houses now grow and about coveys of quail that nobody has seen in decades. They’re applauding flight that haunts these souls on cold January days. They have a common bond in that which is the outdoors.
As friends do and should and must and are obliged to do, they have hunted and lived together. Behind a pack of beagles, they have chased rabbits through briars and thorns and honeysuckle tangles from here to the next county.
Inside the confines of a lean-to duck blind on the river, two hours before the sun inflates, they have hidden and called and waited and seen a new snow be birthed upon this earth.
From dove fields in September where they hold heirloom guns with hands that are stained with barbecue sauce and grease and dirt, they have hunted.
From a ridge where the noblest of turkey has reigned and been missed and turned his feathers to these men, they have hunted.
Oh, there have been tales of truth and tales of absolute truth. Wives have scolded and children learned to use a knife and the old, black, cast-iron kettle, has been warmed by a fire and its contents stirred by their hands and they have fed and been fed.
This day is like no other and like others, too. The door opens and four hunters step inside this place. They are quick to the canned meat and the hot chocolate and the white bread and the hot sauce in a narrow, skinny jar. They smell of dogs and mud, and they laugh and banter as young hunters should. When they leave, there is a pause in the conversation and the observation, and they watch the hunters leave.
Shuffling his feet and stretching his hands deeper in his pocket, one of them says aloud, “I haven’t had canned meat and hot sauce in years.”
To which another says, “Do you know what that does to you?”
To which the other man says, “Eventually, you come to a store and you stand in the corner with friends every day because you can’t follow each other into honeysuckle like we once did.”
From his pocket, the man retrieved a few dollars, lifted the canned meat from a shelf and shuffled to the counter.
Reach outdoors columnist Jason Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.