“For some of us, the end of the season empties the soul like a north wind shakes through the beech brush…”
By Oak Duke
As the Winter Solstice arrives Thursday, it marks both the end of the astronomical year 2023 and the beginning of 2024.
The sun on Thursday is at its lowest point in our southern sky in its daily trek across the horizon, and because it’s so low, our shortest day of the year occurs with only 9 hours and 20 minutes between sunrise and sunset.
Of course we celebrate this celestial event 11 days later on New Year’s Eve, with the symbolic ball drops whenever and wherever it’s midnight that day.
But by then, the days are getting longer already, as the sun has begun inching northward, making sunsets later and sunrises earlier.
The Winter Solstice this year lands in the middle of the short halt in the New York State Southern Zone deer season, closing for archers and muzzleloader hunters, on December 19th for a week, and then opening back up again the day after Christmas, December 26, 2023.
The extended deer season, called by the NYSDEC… The Holiday Season, runs for a week, closing a half hour after sunset January 1, 2024, that’s about 20 minutes after 5 pm, depending on location throughout the Southern Tier as the time varies slightly, as the sun sets earlier in the east.
And then, the final buzzer of the 2023 deer season will have rung once again down through the deep hollows, up across the steepest ridges, and back down through the most tangled-up swamps, wherever in the woods where we chose to be.
The end of deer hunting rattles with a reverberation across the brown goldenrod fields, through the thick buckthorn, and power-line slashings.
For some of us, the end of the season empties the soul like a north wind shakes through the beech brush, like the period at the end of this sentence.
And then begins the process of learning to live with all those what-ifs and mistakes, misses, missteps, and fickle winds.
Hard to let the misses and screw-ups go.
They seem clearer, more poignant than the successes.
In the following days, something happens, maybe a trigger, and those misses are called back up to our conscious mind.
Maybe stored back on a mental shelf somewhere, maybe way in the back.
Got some new ones right up front.
Pushed the old ones back.
Hunting season does that to us.
Now it’s done.
We had the buck of our dreams right there too.
A lot of whitetail bucks made it through.
They are all holed up now, laying there, right now as we read this, chewing their cuds, flicking their huge ears, checking out every wayward scent and sound.
Soon, their antlers will fall off if they haven’t already.
Mostly nocturnal now near that longest night of the Winter Solstice.
Whitetails are now entering their dormant phase too.
Deer need to recoup from the rigors of their breeding season when food and rest are put on the back burner and they run all day and night.
Breeding bucks especially run their fat off.
But not all are participants.
Some are wallflowers.
A long time looms, actually the longest time before the next deer season opener comes ’round again.
It will be a long time before we once again find ourselves comfortably tucked deep in the woods, holding our breaths as we hear every “crunch, crunch, crunch…” in the frosted leaves.
Our hearts skip.
Our knees shake.
Our thoughts are so loud they’re made out of wood.
After the season, our bows and guns need to be checked and cleaned for the final time, locked up and stored away.
Venison packed and wrapped in the freezer.
The guns safes are locked.
The longest nine months is between deer seasons.
Fishing times will be here, long before we once again see that flash of antlers through the trees.
First winter needs to plod past on its slow, cold pace.
Spring is as short as a glance, up here at the top of the northern-most thrust of the Appalachians.
Heavy names for deep wooded hollows, challenging steep ridges, places where cell phones still don’t work.
Summer, the time of the biting bugs, sweat-soaked shirts,… seems to drag on forever, past the Summer Solstice, June 21, when the days begin to shorten again.
Canadian systems, spawned in the Arctic will eventually chill the evening air again.
Frosted maples along the roadside turn red first.
And something turns on in us.
The best time of year.
Our hearts beat again with that rhythm of the deer hunter, growing strength and steadiness.
But that’s a long time from now, here at near the end of the deer season at the Winter Solstice.
Oak Duke/Wellsville/ December 2023
Whitetail Page: www.facebook.com/Oak.Duke.whitetail.page
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