Hunched beneath the ancient spruce, I settled the rifle on my boot and leaned back to wait. My first walk here, the year Grampa died, Dad spoke the words that echo still in my older ears. “Head down the east line. Cross the brook at the wagon wheels and head for the old cellar hole. Come up the ridge. I’ll be waiting at Grampa’s spruce.”
Any boy grown in any woods knows all the rocks and trees within, but this felt new. With every step, gun held tight, I made my eyes survey our land. He’d said, “walk slow, look hard.” I did. What son would not his first time out?
I made my way as he said I should and approached the ridge. I saw him first against the spruce, eyes half closed and lost in thought. I crossed the ridge and stood next to him beneath the limbs until he spoke.
“See anything son?”
“Nope. Did you?”
Then silence once again.
At dusk he led the way with the half bent gait a tall man walks when moving though close grown trees. No compass, no light, just a thousand walks worth of memories guiding his feet toward our home. I followed close.
We finally came, at field’s edge, to the flat gray rock. It's a quarter-mile from the white farmhouse. The ejected shells moving from gun to palm to pocket mark my first hunts end. He lit a cigarette, sat back and smoked it down.
By the glow, through the smoke, I saw his shining eyes seeing mine. At last he stood. With one slow look over the clover field he murmured “that was good” and we started on. “Five hundred steps ‘til home son. It’s cold out here, hope supper’s on.” (It’s always on. Our supper, like the clover we were walking through, simply waits for mouths to feed.)
Now my son is standing here beneath Grampa’s spruce that we hold so dear and he awaits my words.
“See anything son?”
“No, did you?”
At dusk I turn to lead the way and feel his eyes upon my back, as mine bore into Dad’s for a thousand walks. We reach the rock and unload our guns, the ejected shells marking the end of his own first hunt. I sit down. Not to smoke but to wipe at tears.
I see his eyes seeing mine and after a few more moments time, I stand. Glancing around at this land we own, in the dying light at the end of day, I see my son as Dad saw me. “That was good” I murmur, and we start for home.
Beneath Grampa’s spruce as my son came to me, I learned what it is to be a man. To lose a father. To have a son. At first we follow, then we lead, but in the end we all walk home.
“Five hundred steps ‘til home son. It’s cold out here, hope supper’s on.”