That Perfect Day in the Squirrel Woods: Unexpected Gifts

Faint praise would be grossly inadequate. A mindless cliché would be wholly insufficient, irreverent. Most likely spoken with no depth of thought, that often heard It could be worse would be an affront. None of these; not for this day. This day was spectacular, its perfection melding with a lonesome fog that resisted the sun and gave naked oaks to the east a more foreboding appearance than normal. January; 48 degrees; sunrise; exhaled breaths puffing and pushing a gentle cloud into windless surroundings; no noise save the symphony of nature. Spectacular.

I sat alone, ideal for such activity. In pretense I was squirrel hunting, but I probably wasn’t. Attire was basic, the type dress promoted by such a setting. The most significant piece was a tan game vest. It was the last my uncle bought and used extensively, but it remains functional.  He was a simple man, asking nothing more in recreational tools than a cane pole and barely reliable bolt-action shotgun. He died in his early 80s almost 10 years back. I have had the vest since.

And then a sound, one that never fails to transform the present to some distant past. A pileated woodpecker. He first chattered and soon came bouncing by in that up-and-down flight pattern. He stopped on a tree and was immediately joined by two more of his kin. It is this bird I most associate with similar mornings as this in the squirrel woods with my dad. I was at first alarmed by that raucous call back then, but my dad assured me, explained what I was hearing. Can it possibly be that was more than 50 years ago? Alarm has since morphed into solace.

The rifle in my hands was a classic, a Marlin lever 39A .22. This basic platform has been in production going on 100 years now, and though the one I held had cosmetic changes, the .model remains pretty much as it was at its introduction. I wanted one throughout childhood, but finances would not allow. That desire never faded, so I treated myself not too many years back. No buyer’s remorse. The little rifle proved more than I had longed for since l was 12.

With the sun now forcing misty fingers through the fog and between bare limbs and around sturdy trunks of oaks that were waiting patiently for spring and new birth, a pair of wood ducks whistled by. A flock of geese honked from high overhead. A single-file string of does nibbled along, unaware of my presence. One suspected something and did that head-bobbing maneuver in my direction. She concluded, if indeed she did see me, that I was no threat. Her conclusion was correct. They pattered quietly on damp leaves and melted into a pine plantation.

And there were squirrels. One in an oak nearby, five or six bouncing around the treetops over there to the right. But actually taking one or more of these gradually became a matter of less import than I had envisioned while driving to the woods earlier. I was content to watch and think and find great refreshment in the moment.

I considered some words of Solomon. You know those from Ecclesiastes where he, a wealthy, powerful man possessing every material thing he could want and experiencing every perceived pleasure that could come to mind, laments, “Vanity of vanities,” this from the King James Version. The New International Version translates it “Meaningless! Meaningless!” Solomon goes on in this same thought process to say, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 2: 22 (NIV). Strong words demanding thought. I thought.

Here I was experiencing a prodigious supply of unexpected gifts. None of them required “toil and anxious striving.” They were gifts. Foolish I would be not to recognize them as such and grasp each for what it was, allow them individually and collectively to enrich and energize my life that, like the life of everybody else I know, is filled with daily struggles and fatigue from the mundane. This perfect day in the squirrel woods was running my cup over with rich rewards.

Perhaps, either literally or figuratively, there is a tan game vest in your closet. Perhaps there is a vintage .22 collecting dust in a corner. You might consider dragging out these items from the past and making them a part of the present and future. A perfect day could be hidden in them.