Written and submitted by Gina Martens of Crivitz, WI
It Kindly Stopped for Me
The gray sky seems to open slowly, but deliberately to allow the first season’s snowflakes fall to the earth. The fresh, cool air felt pleasant in my mouth and nose. The many layers of warm clothes that envelope my body make it difficult to walk, but I plod on. I shift the weight of my hunting rifle and begin the long trudge down the trail to my deer stand. I walk down a long pine row—a corridor with out-stretched branches. As I reach the end, I turn to my left and venture along the edge of an open meadow. I can barely make out the shape of my stand as it looms in the line of trees that stand guard as the edge of the cedar swamp. It rises about ten feet off of the ground. A small, but sturdy ladder leads up to a platform and then to a small door. I fumble with my gloves in order to remove them. My bare hands chill quickly in the fall air. I lift the latch and push open the door. The door is so small that is forces me to remove my rifle from my shoulder and crawl into the opening on my hands and knees. I ease myself into the stand and prop the rifle against the wall. I slowly and quietly take my seat in the old office chair that would serve as my throne for the next few hours. Replacing the gloves quickly on my hands, I get comfortable and take in my surroundings. I am engulfed in a beautiful stillness. The snow now seems to be falling faster, creating a hypnotic vortex. Everything around me seems to be settling—falling into a rhythm that Nature herself must have planned out. Clumps of snow topple from the weighed down branches of the cedar and pine trees. A muffled thump reaches my ears as each clump meets the ground. I gaze upward to where the tops of the trees end and the gray sky begins. The sun is struggling to show itself amidst the late afternoon mist and haze. Even from where I sit, seemingly deep within nature, I can still hear the soft hum of cars in the distance. The main highway really isn’t far—if you measure by how the crow flies.
Suddenly, a rapid movement in the neighboring pine tree catches my eye—a red squirrel scurries hurriedly down the trunk of the tree. His red bushy tail twitches methodically as he pauses at the base of the tree to sniff the air and take in his surroundings. After determining that everything seems to be safe, he slowly creeps over to my bait pile. As I watch the squirrel select bits of corn, I hear the call of a blue jay and then another. A crow flies overhead and lets out a caa caa. A distant call can be heard in response. Even though it is approaching the evening, life in the forest goes on. The cool cedar scented air fills my lungs as I breathe in deeply. Each breath leaves me wanting more of the delicious earthy air and I take it in almost greedily. Calmness comes over me and in the midst of this peaceful place—I fall asleep.
I awake to a faint female voice calling playfully, “Kodi, Kodi Bear!” The voice seems to permeate the forest and swamp. Everything is as it was before I had fallen asleep—everything but the voice. Gosh, I think, that’s strange. Hearing the name brings back fond memories of a dog that I had when I was young. It was a husky—extremely loyal and loving. The dog had been especially close to my mother; however Kodi had developed a very strange illness. My parents had done all they could afford to do—and the vet did his best, but Kodi slipped away from us one night.
Surely, there must be a house somewhere on the opposite side of the forest. Someone is calling their beloved pet. I smiled at the thoughts that this brought back. I listen for more calls, but none can be heard. I must have only been asleep for a few minutes—ten or twenty, maybe? The light in the sky is still evident; however, it was fading. I peer around—my bait pile is untouched since I last dumped corn this morning. I shift my weight in my chair and it lets out a creak beneath me—I freeze. Even though I have not heard nor seen a deer, I imagine that this singular sound can be heard from miles around and everything would have heard it.
“Jamie, it’s time to come in now!” another female voice echoes faintly through the forest. The voice is light and breathy, but I think I heard it correctly—or did I? That is my name. It could be just a coincidence. But the voice that spoke those words—they were familiar as well. My mother’s? No. It’s not possible. It has been years since I have heard her voice. She passed away three years ago. Breast cancer. She had fought bravely for many long, hard months. Towards the end, I think that she welcomed death. It had been good to her—death could be gentle.
“Come on.” The voice, now a little louder, commanded. What sounds like a giggle of a young child seems to be heard in response to the command. The thick cedar swamp must be amplifying the sound. The trees seemed to absorb it and then project it. Now, I strain in my chair to hear the voice. It couldn’t possibly be what it sounded like to me—just hearing what I want to hear—an old familiar voice. Still, though, the voice brought me comfort and an unintended smile crossed my lips. The mist and haze is now growing thicker as night time begins to fall. There is possibly only an hour left of “shooting” light. Once again, everything around me is still.
“Ha haa—wee!” a disembodied giggle reaches my ears through the haze. I don’t have to strain to hear it this time—it is very clear. It is a young girl’s giggle. “Push me higher, I want to go higher” another girl’s voice pleaded followed by laughter—two young girls; each voice becoming more distinct. I still can’t quite fathom what I am hearing. It is weird how the forest can make things sound so close, so near—so familiar. I close my eyes and continue to listen to the children’s apparent joy—memories of times gone by grace my brain. I remember playing for endless hours outside with my sister when I was young at the old farmhouse where we were raised. I listened to the familiar giggles and squeals of excitement until they seemed to be absorbed back into the forest whence they had come.
I open my eyes again. I have almost forgotten the reason I am here in the first place. I have a buck tag and a freezer to fill. I scan the forest through the windows of my stand and it has remained still. I scan over and over—scrutinizing my surroundings. I notice nothing—but then, suddenly—something. There is a figure walking down the trail that I had come in on. The figure is short in stature and seems to be rather petite. I rub my eyes as if that will make things clearer. I can’t quite make out any features—the haze has grown thicker and the absence of light is playing tricks on my eyes—or is it? I watch the figure’s movement as it heads down the trail. Then, a black dog bounds onto the trail next to her. It is wagging its tail excitedly. Strangely—I hear nothing. The figure stoops to greet the animal. At this point, the figure casts its face upward, as if looking at me. It is at that point that I am able to gain recognition. There is no mistaking the identity of this figure. It is a face that I am all too familiar with—seen in family pictures from many years ago—a face from another time. I gasp aloud. It is the first sound that I have made in hours, but the figure and the dog take no notice. The figure stands after patting the dog on the head. Again, a startled gurgle escapes my lips. The figure is me—a much younger me! I couldn’t be but eleven or twelve years old. The dog—he was my first bird dog, Sarge. He was my best friend. He lived a good thirteen years—well into old age for a dog his size. He passed on when I was away at collage. It killed me that I was unable to be by his side in his last moments.
I stare into the haze, unable to truly believe what I am seeing. Still, no sound is heard. My childhood self continues down the trail with the black dog following closely behind. Soon, they have moved out of sight. I break my gaze from the last place that I had seen them and look ahead—I focus on the bait pile. I feel that I just need a reassurance of reality. As of right now, it is the only thing I am sure of—even my own senses can’t be trusted. I feel as though I have lost touch with what is physical; I have entered another state—something unlike I had ever experienced before.
“Jamie, Jamie—it’s time to come home!” a woman’s voice calls. It isn’t the same voice that I had heard before. This one is different, but still oh so familiar. It is loud and clear. I tilt my head and eyes in the direction that I had heard the voice—I see a woman. She is just to my left—standing at the edge of the swamp. Even through the haze, her features are clear to me—they are real. It is like I had just seen her; although, I know she passed away when I was in my early twenties. Her face is round and her hair is short and curled neatly. She looks directly at me and smiles a gentle smile. The forest seems to be brighter where she stands. The woman is dressed in black dress slacks and a plain white tee-shirt with clean white tennis shoes on her feet. Before I can even register what I am seeing, I find myself rising and starting down the ladder. My rifle remains propped against the wall. I reach the spongy earth floor and begin walking toward the woman who had called me home.
“I am coming grandma!” I call to the woman as I effortlessly close the space that was between us. I pause and turn. I cast my eyes up to my stand. A familiar figure, dressed in my hunting clothes, sits in my chair. The figure looks as if it were sleeping—totally comfortable and calm. I smile—it is time to go home.