Deer season is open. Of all the places I hunt and have hunted, by far, my favorite is an old, abandoned, decrepit homestead. That was the subject for the first magazine article I sold Bowhunter Magazine, over 30 years ago. Thanks to Chuck Denault for the idea, the pictures and superb paintings. JLS
The seasons passed the homestead like clouds across the moon. Winter, spring, summer, autumn and winter again, leaving no more mark than the maple leaves, scattered, across the fields. But for each season, there was a special building.
When spring came to the Homestead, he often hid in the "new" house. He had taken to referring to the buildings as "old", "new" and "newest". He would hide just as the ground began to thaw and the turkeys came into the small field.
Often, he would hide and wait, dreaming of the people who had first settled the 80 acres. He couldn't remember their name. Old Man Denault, had told him once but he had forgotten. It didn't matter. He would hide, hoping for turkeys to come to his calls and hoping even more, the "new" house, would not fall in on top him. By homestead standards, it was new, maybe only 70 years old. It had two stories and a loft. It had once had electricity. Now, it was about to collapse. It made a perfect blind. The turkeys ignored it and he could dream in peace until time to shoot.
Old man Denault had given him permission to use the homestead as his own. He had cleared and planted a small food plot by the "new" barn but he didn't spend much time there in summer. Mostly, he just waited for autumn.
On days when it was still cool in the morning, he would walk the hills that surrounded the homestead, looking for trails and beds. Mostly, he just waited for autumn. But sometimes, he could imagine the place in the glory days, late summer, still warm with deer browsing near the well house. The new house, the one that burned, would have still been standing.
In the early fall, as the leaves changed their colors and drifted constantly across his small, green field, he would hide in the "newest" barn. This was his favorite time of the year. He had stands back in the woods, in the maples but he liked the loft of the "newest" barn. He thought the smell of the hay, sometimes still stored there, masked his odor. Sometimes he dreamed of deer jumping the old, now fallen, rail fence to get to the garden. Sometimes, he thought he could smell the wood smoke from the chimney.
One year, as the leaves covered the ground in reds, yellows, golds and a variety of colors, he killed a nice buck from the loft. The "newest" barn was still fairly solid, he didn't worry about it falling in or with him. It was third in a series of three barns on the homestead. He wondered what they kept in them, the Homesteaders. Hay probably and maybe livestock. Two houses, three barns...and now, nothing. People, like seasons, moving on.
Late autumn, saw him hunting near or inside the "old", log house. He could shoot his muzzle loader from the doorways and the maybe a window. He had killed a fine deer there, one Thanksgiving morning. It was his favorite building. He spent a lot of time dreaming about how it was built, how long it took and who lived there. He dreamed too of deer coming to the now fallow fields. He wondered how or if they celebrated Thanksgiving. Maybe with fresh deer meat or a wild turkey?
Why did the people leave, where did they go? The small, cleared fields would have provided garden space and maybe some feed for the livestock. Did the wildlife provide meat? He wondered how cold it got in late winter with only a woodstove for heat. How much wood did it take? When did they get the glass windows? How did they chink it? Deer often would move from the line of conifers into the small openings, ruining his dreaming. But it was a nice blind for cold, windy days. Some days, the sun hit it in late afternoon, warming the logs. Did they plan it that way?
Winter came early that year. Six inches of snow covered the ground, blanketed the conifers, leaving the birch standing naked in the wind. A folding chair allowed him to shoot through the window of the "old" barn. What remained of the walls and roof gave him protection. He was constantly worried a board from the roof or the whole, log wall might fall when he squeezed the trigger on the .308. But it had been standing a long time. According to Old Man Denault, well before he got the property at auction.
The seasons changed, moving constantly. Spring left and summer came. Summer left and autumn came and on it went. Constantly moving, changing. Maybe, much like the original homesteaders. Maybe, they just...moved on.
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