A chill in the air remained even though the cold spell had broken, so I donned a jacket as I headed out the door.

Something inside me yearned to see that old cabin one last time. It was a longing I had fought back for awhile but today, I decided to make that journey.

Roger Smith

You see, that old cabin sat on a parcel of land that our family had leased for decades from a very nice gentleman who charged us barely anything for the use.

The elders in the family had sawn every log from the surrounding woods, skidded them to the location atop a bluff and assembled it over time.

The old cabin wasn’t much to look at — rough, crooked, not all the chinking held so there were still spots for the wind to find it’s way in, and the walls were lined with crude bunk beds to accommodate the members.

An old wood stove in the corner, a small table, a lantern hanging in the middle to provide light… but it was home for 11 days out of the year.

The past season the landowner passed away and his son, who got the inheritance, stopped our lease as he was an anti-hunter, so that was the last season we would ever be together again.

I made the drive, parked at the now-locked gate and hiked my way in. There it sat. To anyone else just some old shack, but to me a sight for sore eyes. 

Even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, I had to be. As I approached the old cabin I slipped open the old door which still creaked and peeked inside; it was dark and musty smelling.

I propped the door open while I searched for the matches, hoping the old lantern had enough fuel left for one more lighting.

I got it going, closed the door and lay down on one of the old bunks as I had did many a day.

And that’s when that old cabin came back to life.

I closed my eyes and the past started to reveal itself. The musty odor turned into the smell of gun oil, deer scent and coffee brewing. 

As I listened to the hissing of the old lantern, I seemed to drift into another dimension. Was that the crack of Homer’s old 243 up on the North ridge? I found myself walking back to camp. I was always the last one out of the woods and as I grew closer I could smell the smoke from the old wood stove drifting up the ridge.

A little closer and I could smell the skillet of potatoes and onions frying on the old stove as Jim stood there and tended to them as he had done for so many years.

I could hear the laughter as the guys chided one another as they always did over the day’s hunt. I looked at the old meat pole to see what had been hung that day.

I could hear the pans rustling as supper was prepared. As I entered through that old creaking door Frank accused me of being lost again and offered me his compass to use the following day.

An owl hooting snapped me back to reality and as I peered through the old dusty door pane, I could tell night was drawing near. I knew I had to be going but I felt frozen into a time that I couldn’t bare part with.

I took one last look around. There were still a few canned goods sitting on the counter, someone had left an old blanket and pillow, expecting to return again.

I hesitantly turned off the old lantern. I wanted to take it with me but it seemed only fitting to let it remain where it had hung for so many years and lit our way.

As I exited and shut that old creaking door one last time, a part of me seemed to die. I was overcome with a sadness beyond explanation.

I started back down the road on my journey back to the Jeep and something told me to turn and have one last look. As I did a majestic buck stepped out into the logging road and just looked at me.

We locked eyes, he didn’t seem skittish or afraid… it was almost as if he was bidding one final farewell to me and to things that would be no more. 

You see, my Uncle George was one of the original founders of that old lodge and he had passed away that year also. It was as though that camp ran on his timeline.

Before rounding the corner where the cabin would be out of sight for the last time, I turned and that old Buck was still standing watching me depart.

It was almost as if he was as sad as I was, for he somehow knew the days of my pursuing him and him getting to outsmart me again had come to a close.

A lot of the family have passed on now but the memories remain. As I sit here tonight reflecting, I still wonder about that old buck.

What his thoughts were when that old cabin and surrounding woods grew silent, and I wonder if he died of old age, or does he still wander those same haunts, maybe wishing to smell that old wood smoke again and longing for one more chance to pit his skills against mine.

(Roger Smith lives in Bonne Terre, Mo., and can be reached at n0uss@yahoo.com.)