Pop never said anything once we got the boat into the water. Or not audibly anyway. Words were mouthed occasionally, but that’s all. Those weekends were the calmest days I’ve ever experienced. We never scared any ducks, of that I’m sure.
Once in, the campfire would be small. Our camp, a temporary living room, was smaller than a kitchen table. We huddled close to the small heat. We had made a nest in the blackness - the weak campfire light never reached the trees behind us. You’ll ruin your night vision if you turn on a flashlight, so we seldom did. It was quiet. The fire popped softly. My ears rang.
Keeping water and dirt separated is the main tenet of civilization. Here that was made apparent. And you had to work at it. Resigning yourself to accept discomfort is one way to handle it. It is better though to imagine that being uncomfortable is part of who you are. Scratchy leaves up the back of your shirt don’t keep you from relaxing, when you’re at one with the forest. Anyway, the best was made of the situation. But I still actually think it was the best, of all situations. To be in the woods, in the blind, with my dad, on those weekends.
Beforehand, I knew the crack of my shotgun would ring in my ears for a couple days afterwards, and even thinking of it made the current silence feel hot and pulsing in my ears. The thought of it was like ear muffs as well. Soft and warm; and the world softened so my internal world would be a little more prominent than it normally was.
Dad was right there, a few steps behind or to the side or even a few steps ahead, but he also wasn’t there, because thinking back now, he too was probably lost inside his own head. But back then I wasn’t aware that there were insides to other people’s heads. There was a sense of safety with him there of course, but without any communication we would dig our own holes or climbed our own peaks, quietly, internally. Maybe the presences of his son comforted him too, but I’d never know.
Before the slightest of grey covered over the stars, he shook my shoulder. It was morning. Rubbery with sleep, I stood on my knees, still in my sleeping bag. Beautiful warmth clung for a moment longer, as I shook the imagined spiders out of my jacket. The pine needles were soft but also prickling through my thick wool socks, as I fished the tongue out of my boot. Then ramming my heel hotly down into their dewy void.
It was still black out as we climbed from the boat into the blind. Now was the time for silence because there was not a breath of wind. A creak of rubber as I settled in for the day. We tried to conceal the smell of our thermos of coffee by slowly pouring small cupfuls, then gulping them down. I knew, even then, that ducks were not the point.