"When is he coming?" Joseph mumbled, looking down the trail for the third time. It was difficult being patient, especially when his legs itched to move forward.
The boy always seemed to be waiting around for someone. Like dad who left last year, whose letters were rare as gold on the kitchen table. Finally, a familiar red cap and jacket came into view. Wire-rimmed glasses framed a smile.
"Getting impatient?" his neighbor, Mr. Lawrence asked.
"Yeah, well...no," Joseph stammered. They had become good friends this past summer, even going fishing a few times. Today they were hunting partridge, something he never did before.
"OK, time for a rest."
We just began, the boy thought. "I'm not tired. Let's go..."
"Joseph, sit. Hunting isn’t just rushing around. It’s observing things."
Today’s trip might not be so cool after all. He listened to poplar leaves jiggling in the wind. Gold, orange and reddish-tinged leafy trees surrounded them. It was indeed a beautiful autumn sight. Maybe there was something in sitting and enjoying the view.
Back in Truro Joseph was so busy with activities he barely had time to do his homework. "What kind of tree has such beautiful colors?" he asked.
The man answered. "They’re sugar maples. Lots of them here, eh?"
"What about that one?"
"I think it’s a red pine."
"Is that a scotch pine to the right?" the boy asked.
"Yes. How did you know that?"
"My father used to work for Lands and Forests. He taught me a lot."
"Trying to test me, eh?" Mr. Lawrence asked, jumping to his feet. "Ready? Or do you need some more rest?”
"One more question?" Joseph asked.
“You stopped so we could look around. Right?”
“And take time to smell the roses!” they piped in together.
"Now I’m ready," the boy said, feeling more relaxed. They walked quietly for the next hour, listening for the unmistakable sound of a partridge.
Mr. Lawrence cradled his .410 shotgun in the crook of his arm.
"A rabbit!" Joseph shouted. “Look!” At the sound of his voice, the small animal disappeared into the underbrush. "How come you didn't try and shoot it?" the boy asked.
"It's not rabbit season."
"Yeah, but who would know?"
Joseph mumbled under his breath. "I thought we came here to shoot something," he said.
"Did you notice the colors on the rabbit?"
"Yeah, brown with splashes of white all over."
"Good observation," Mr. Lawrence said. "White will be his camouflage when winter comes."
"Very observant, Joseph. The rabbit was really charging away. I didn't think you'd see the white on his feet."
This made Joseph feel special. He wasn't used to an adult saying nice things to him.Mom did, but moms have to, he thought. Since dad took off it was left for mom to be his cheerleader.
"When are we going to see some partridge? Besides, I'm getting hungry," Joseph, asked.
"Which do you want to do first?"
"Spoken like a true hunter," said Mr. Lawrence.
They ate delicious Cream of Broccoli soup from their thermos container. Mr. Lawrence brought the dessert, cookies and granola bars.
"Mom makes great soup," Joseph boasted.
"You really love your mom, don't you?
Joseph's answer was a radiant smile.
Do you want to try some target shots later?"
"May I?" the boy exclaimed almost spilling his soup. "Wow. Really?"
After eating both tidied up, then Mr. Lawrence set up a wood target around ten inches square. The background was a sandy hill.
"No danger this way from shotgun pellets flying across the trail," Mr. Lawrence advised. “Always practice safety in the woods, young man.”
Under the watchful guidance of Mr. Lawrence, the boy prepared himself. As the shotgun boomed, pellets slammed into the target.
"I did it!"
"Does your shoulder hurt?"
"No. I did just as you told me. Hold the gun stock tightly against my muscle."
"Good thing you have those muscles," Mr. Lawrence teased.
Handing the empty shotgun back, the boy said, "Thanks for trusting me." Not far down the trail, a young doe stood watching.
"OHHH!" Joseph gasped.
The noise startled the wild animal. It turned quickly and leaped into the woods. Its white tail bobbed like a flag, as it headed for new adventures.
"Did I scare it?” Joseph asked.
"Nature teaches it to be careful around humans."
"Because we might be hunting her."
"But it's not deer season," Joseph said.
“Except the deer isn’t quite sure,” the man said. "How come you wanted me to shoot the rabbit?"
"Well, I’m learning each animal has a special season." The boy thought for a moment. "Mr. Lawrence, how come we kill things?"
"I hunt to eat the game. And I also follow all the rules. Besides its a chance for me to get some exercise."
The boy nodded.
"I also get to spend some time with you," Mr. Lawrence added. And poked the boy on the shoulder.
Joseph remembered when it used to be like this with dad. The two of them doing things together. It felt good to have someone caring about him again. The rest of the day was a challenge. It rained tiny pellets of hail and drove the man and boy into shelter under the trees.
White birch gleamed like smiling teeth. After the rainfall they walked more trails, boots scuffing rocky sections.
"These bits of gravel are picked up by partridge early morning and evening," the man explained.
"Why?" the boy asked.
"It goes into a crop, like a packsack under their throat. It helps grind down leaves and seed that are picked up from the ground."
"Neat," the boy answered.
Suddenly they heard a pounding sound. As if a small child was banging, quicker than a drummer. The noise rose eerily through the trees, like a musical pattern reaching a high pitch that thrilled their ears.
"It's beautiful," Joseph breathed. "What animal causes those sounds?"
"A male partridge calling for a mate. Right now he’s standing close by on an old log and flapping rapidly at the air with his wings. It's the message of life, Joseph. That's how you and I came into this world."
"Yeah...I know," the boy answered. "Mom talked to me about all that stuff a long time ago."
The man smiled and said, "I’m glad."
Their return on the trail was without conversation. Each had much to think about. They had shared the trail; conversation, food and Joseph even fired a shotgun for the first time.
When they finally reached their car, the boy paused then stretched as he looked around. He watched billowy clouds pile like pillows over the trees. The sun’s warmth covered his face.
The man was pleased. It had been a good day. His legs had additional energy for walking but it was the right time to go home.
"Mr. Lawrence, I had an awesome time. I don't care if we didn't shoot anything."
Yes, the man thought, it was a good hunting trip.
"How about taking me again?" Joseph asked.
* * *
© Richard & Esther Provencher 2007