The fires we sit beside on the side of our ridge are most often meant as times of quiet contemplation between Dee and me, and sometimes for my own contemplation.
We’ve invited our share of friends and family to join us there during our years here at the old Eimon Homestead. We’ve even been known to invite groups of writers and artists to join us there for projects through our nonprofit organization, The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts.
But sometimes our quiet little parties are crashed by pesky neighbors who, though they lack invitations, we joyfully welcome to our ridge.
We honestly welcome those pesky neighbors’ unexpected visits. Hearing and seeing a fire tell its stories about the land beneath the cover of but-for-stars darkness wouldn’t be the same without those party crashers.
Two of them stopped in during two of our recent nights of under-the-stars fires. They were stealthy each time with their approaches, us not seeing them until they stood and started grazing the grass a few yards from us. Their approach was through the tall grasses and trees down by Timber Creek. The fire’s subtle breaths and its occasional sizzle and pop of damp wood were enough to cover whatever noises the whitetail does’ reddish hair might have been making against the grass or low-hanging pine-boughs.
It was the witching hour, those moments right after sunset when all rural falls quiet in humble honor of the passing day and of the approaching darkness.
The deer tiptoed onto the lawn, their nature-pedicured hooves soundless against the sod.
We made no particular effort to remain motionless, but we sat that way in such silence that the sounds of their incisors snipping grass became audible over the fires’ sounds. They grazed for a few minutes, occasionally glancing up at us through the heat-distorted air rising from the fire’s flames.
Bellies apparently sated, after a few minutes the visitors made their ways back into the grass and trees and then back to the creek-bottom. Perhaps they were seeking more entertainment than we were willing to offer during those cool early August nights. Perhaps wildlife needed to find more wild in their lives than we were displaying beside that cozy fire.
Their ghostly disappearance into the grass and trees could make a mind wonder whether the visitors ever were there. I’m certain that, could I speak with my grandparents – or even my parents – their disbelief would follow my telling them that deer have been coming to visit us and our farmyard fires.
They didn’t know such visits, the farm-country deer population having grown only during my lifetime.
“No, deer didn’t come into your farmyard – especially not while you’re sitting beside a fire,” any of my grandparents would have said. “You’re in Wisconsin farm country, and there are no deer in Wisconsin farm country.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it,” either of my parents would have said. “Deer started popping up more around Wisconsin farm country a few years back, but they sure wouldn’t be making a habit of coming to visit you by a fire.”
I wouldn’t bother telling them how several bucks were roaming beside our house on another night.
More uninvited-but-welcome visitors started popping into our little fireside gathering a minute or two after the deer disappeared.
An owl called the first of its nightly hoots from the patch of trees a few yards from the fire; a screech owl trilled its haunting nightly greetings. Coyotes certainly within easy sight of our fire made their presence known with a musical cacophony of yips and howls lasting a minute and then suddenly stopping as though under the power of an orchestra’s conductor.
And then, the quickest of visitors arrived overhead – meteors streaking across the sky, giving us quick waves of “hello” and “goodbye” with their twinkling long tails as they zoomed over Osseo, us, Pigeon Falls and on down to Trempealeau; they made haste in crossing the northern Driftless Area’s sky east to west and north to south, telling us they’d like to stay and visit but have somewhere to be on the other side of the Milky Way.
We plan to sit by more fires in our farmyard as the each day’s sunshine is shortened, Ma Nature’s artists then getting busy to paint a 96-Crayon-box of colors across the aspens, willows, maples, walnuts. There by that fire we know we’ll see that continued array of neighborhood guests – all uninvited, but all welcomed.
— Scott Schultz