Along the fences the men wear camouflage like fashion. Old wagon wheels lean against the posts and fleck white paint. Buckets of carrots for the deer.
I like the jerky that hangs in plastic bags from pegs across the front of each general store along M-61, the salt and the smoke, not hardly an animal anymore. Signs out front announce “Hunters Welcome.”
October crunches and rots beneath our shoes. Just yesterday it shone against the clear blue like a signal fire.
I don’t hunt. I’ve never hunted. I cannot look my food in the eyes.
I cannot let my food look me in the eyes.
The sugar beet farmers pull their crops from the ground. The air smells of worms and graveyards. Beets tumble root over leaf and thump dull into the wide trucks that rumble heavy toward the thumb and the factories that make them something a grandma can put in cake.
The men hunt. They spend each day, dark-to-dark, watching for a buck to pass. The bucks are in rut, looking far and wide for a mate. Scratching against innocent oak trunks. They won’t see the hunters crouching in their blinds or strapped to the fat limbs of oak trees overhead.
A season of hope and fear.
That the root cellar is enough, that Winter will be kind, that Spring won’t forget how to find us.
That the mound of leaves within that stand of oaks is just a mound of leaves—yellow and red and curling—not a hiding place for something cold and hungry and waiting.
In October, love is deadly. On thinning branches, leaves beg for embrace through Winter with sunrise colors and dragonfly-flight dances and the language of turning and being turned. For you, I’ll make any change. For you I’ll become something new. But the trees let go, anyway.
Jason Kahler is a teacher and writer from Southeast Michigan. His work has appeared in Utopia, Club Plum, and Sledgehammer, among other places. He sometimes tweets @JasonKahler3.