Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Orion has come out tonight, after the snow finished, dodging clouds that seemed to want to get home faster than I. He is a memorable man, perhaps the most well known man in the world. He is the only honest-to-God hunter that most people know. Everyone knows that he is a hunter, and everyone knows him, and that makes him very proud. There is nothing like being known by everyone for being what you most love to be. He is very glad that they point to him and say “There is the great hunter Orion, a mighty hunter before the Lord”, rather than “There is the Great Home Appliance Repair Man”, or “There is the Great Pee-wee League Soccer Game Spectator”, two things that he seemed to do quite much more than he would have wished. He is very glad that those things have faded from everyone else's minds and that it is only his hunting that anyone can remember.

But he is not a hunter. He has not been one for many, many years. Every year he brings out his belt and his sword and his dogs, and marches about as if he could finally bring down that bear and her cub, or that bull that he has always seemed to be one step ahead of. He is certain that this may be the year, although he is not sure what would happen if it finally was. His grandchildren love it- they love to look at his sword and hear about his chariot and play with his dogs. Major and Miner they call them, not at all certain what mining has to do with hunting or even being a dog. This does not trouble them. These children love these dogs, and they love their grandfather, and they love his pride. It hurts him and his dogs to think that they do not care for hunting or bows or chariots, and that they have no fear of him or his once mighty dogs. They are always being scolded for trying to touch his sword and bow. They cannot keep their hands of the dogs: trying to ride them like horses or pull their ears or dress them up in boots and coat. These children have manhandled the vigor and viciousness right out of those two old hounds. And they have done the same to the old hunter. They climb on him and wrestle him and love him. They cannot sit still, even when he tells them about his hunts.

“You see, my children, that I was once a mighty hunter before the Lord. That is why I have this sword on my belt that you may not touch. For it is a dangerous hunting weapon.”

They giggle. “But grampa, nobody goes hunting with a sword! Where is your gun?”

The oldest child, a pretty girl of nine who feels that she must know so much more than anyone else precisely because she is nine, loves to roll her eyes and ask him why he never caught anything, just to hear his protests that it is not easy, and besides when you go hunting you do not “catch” anything. You may bag a bird, or harvest a deer, (or even kill one), but never “catch”. This is not fishing, this is hunting, he explains. The children laugh.

But these children do enjoy hearing his stories. Their innocent and childish love for the old man helps them to feel the beauty of the thing, and to make a connection in their simple sentimentality that the more analytical and competitive mind of their parents has lost some years ago already. There is not much wonder in his stories (because after all he never did catch anything), but there is the hearty childhood joy of hearing about a thing you've heard about a thousand times before. When you are a child, you can love a thing just for that reason- that it is familiar and is the way things always have been and always will be. That man will get his sword out and his dogs and go marching about every February forever, and they know it and they love it.

There is one thing that they know, that they feel in their hearts, that makes them remember and love these stories and their old grandfather. They know that when the old man gets out his sword and his belt and his chariot and his tired old dogs and goes marching across the sky, that it is the end of the winter. It is the end of darkness and the cold and the stars, a love for which these young children, so delicate and fragile as they are, have not yet replaced with the adult hunger for perpetual comfort. They cannot go out in the winter without a piece of knit clothing on every part of their body (by maternal decree), but this does not keep them in, especially not now in March. They know that, even if it has only happened to them three or four or nine times, that very soon the stars will be removed from sight and mind and give way to perpetual light. When they arise in the morning, even very early, the sun will be up. When they are forced by Mother to come in and bathe up and go to bed, he will still be awake. And it will be this way until they have long forgotten that there is even such a thing as a star. It will be this way for years, for lifetimes, for ever. When the summer has arrived, winter and night is not even a thing you can imagine, or would want to. Endless weeks are soon to arrive of playing in the dirt and throwing the baseball and staying up later than they should (and never seeing it get dark!). The children love the summer, and are deeply pleased to realize that it is here. But each one of them has just the slightest sadness in their souls to think that they will not see their proud grandfather out for a long time, and nor will they see any other stars, or feel the cold, or watch the sun rise. These are things that they love, and although the Lord is about to give them the greatest joy of their little lives, they do love what they have now, and are very content with the winter as it has been. Winter has been around for time out of mind, it is familiar, and they love it because of that.

But it is never the same in the fall. When the leaves take the first tinge of color, and the dark finally seems to creep back into the sky come October, these children will feel a different emotion than the one they feel now. They will not love the winter in October, not at all, at least at first. It will bring that feeling that they hate- that sad loneliness in your stomach that makes you want to stay out just a little bit later each night, because tomorrow there might not be any light, and you might not see the sun again for another lifetime. Your mother may tell you that you cannot go out to play after dinner any more, or that you may have go to school. This is a thing which dulls the love of beauty in a child, the ability to love everything and anything just because it is and there must be some way to make a game out of it. This process will happen every year, and before long, perhaps by the time they are eleven, they will no longer love the winter, even in March. They will complain about the snow and the cold and talk about Florida as if Ponce de Leon really was on to something, and they will act like their jaded parents do, they who have seen too many falls to love winter.

The old man knows this. Old Orion, he knows that his many grandchildren will soon be like this- that they will grow old and bored and tired and will complain bitterly about how late the spring is right when he is out doing the thing that he loves the most- marching across the sky in his proud hunting outfit with his happy tired dogs bounding at this feet. This hurts him, although he has come to expect it because he has seen it many times before. But he is glad that they are still too young to be like this, and that they love him and his stories and his dogs and his domain, the winter, at least for now.

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