It’s afternoon of the first day of gun season on the mountain. We’re hunting in the Catskills, just an hour northwest of New York, in big timber country that feels as remote as anything you’d find in Maine.
This year the woods are dry. The leaves have blown into drifts around the boulders and saplings rattle in the wind. Squirrels make so much noise you have trouble hearing deer, but when there’s nothing moving the silence makes your ears ring.
There are many kinds of quiet, says a book I read to my kids at night. First one awake quiet. Last one to get picked up from school quiet. Don’t scare the robin quiet. This mountain silence is my favorite, born out of 5000 acres of tall hardwoods that step down in columns to the Neversink River. Quiet here echoes like it does in a church.
I hunt the property on foot, stringing together bare spots and mossy rocks four or five steps at a time. You don’t have to be silent to see deer in these conditions, just quiet enough to see them before they hear you.
The mountain is thick with bears, big ones grown fat on the trout in the river and the beech nuts under the leaves. I bump one late in the afternoon while stepping around the corner of a mountain laurel thicket. He crashes off, but as loud as it is out here I lose his sound quickly. It’s another kind of quiet when you can’t see the bear that you know is watching you.
We sleep at night on top of the mountain. There’s an old cabin in a clearing up there, a wood-framed, tar-paper shack with a ceiling that sags like an empty parachute. Old posters and framed newspaper clippings hang on the walls. After dinner we gather in the kitchen around a pot-bellied wood stove, smoking cigars, telling stories, and letting off the steam that builds up when you spend too much time away.
This year the table’s not as loud as it has been. Our club has been hunting this mountain since late ’80s, but the man who owned the property passed away. Now it’s for sale. In lots. We’re allowed to stay because we help keep the riffraff out, but nobody knows for how long.
A warm rain slides in overnight, leaving a curtain of fog in the morning. Moisture clings to the trees and drips from the branches, silencing the leaves on the forest floor. Ears are useless in these conditions, so you have to hunt with your eyes. In the fog, stumps become bears, drops of water breaking branches. A sigh of wind sends a shower moving through some sapling beeches–a herd of deer that has me crouching with my gun ready, convinced that the droplets are hooves.
An hour later two yearling does rise from beds behind an old beech blown down during Sandy. They can see me, barely, but they can’t hear me, and I’m downwind so they don’t know what I am. Peering, one lifts a nose to the fog. Her nostrils widen, black and glistening as she searches for my scent before they turn and fade into the mist.
On my way home the noise takes over. GM loaned me a Sierra to test over the weekend and the truck has satellite radio. Classic Vinyl fills the cab; Clapton, Walsh, Hendrix and the rest putting the drive in fast forward. Traffic picks up on the Palisades, then snarls across the George Washington Bridge. I check email on my phone, sliding back into Babylon. Life is rich in the city, but everything about it is loud. I’m going to miss that deer camp quiet.