Outdoor writing runner-up: Frozen in Time
A quiet, coarse voice and a hand on my shoulder brought me out of a daydream. “Kyle… Kyle! Have you been listening to me? This is important. We’ll never get anything unless we’re patient. Lots of hunters trudge around the woods all morning and never see anything but a tail. It might be a bit cold, but the best bet is to stay in this blind and keep quiet.”
Even with extra clothing nearly doubling my size, I was more than a bit cold. It was as though my eight layers of winter gear were made of fishnet. Swarms of snowflakes, guided by freezing wind, clung to my face. A slip by the creek had soaked the legs of my jeans. Within 15 minutes of reaching the blind, the heat of a physically draining hike would wear off and I would be forced to sit silently for hours.
Although I wasn’t thrilled about the situation, I decided to focus on the peaceful, secluded setting that most hunters look forward to. The woods were so quiet that the muffled impact of each leaf could be heard as handfuls floated to the snow. Hushed gusts of wind swayed the cottonwoods towering over the blind, and chickadees sang by the trickling creek. I was content in silence, fascinated with my surroundings. I was enjoying this hunt. And besides, we had to have been there for quite some time. I’ll bet it’s past 8 already. Probably well past 9, I thought pulling back my sleeve and exposing my wrist to the numbing breeze. It was a quarter to 7.
I looked across the blind to the old man. He seemed at peace. His eyes were half shut, his back was propped against a log, and his rifle rested on his knee. Beads of water slid down the sole of his boot, dripping rhythmically to the ground one by one. I followed the pattern in my head, synchronizing every drop to a tempo, becoming entranced by the beat.
A sudden rustling in the brush brought me back on guard, scanning frantically from tree to tree. It must have been the wind. Turning back I noticed a droplet of water, clinging to the bottom of the old man’s boot and refusing to fall.
Three hours passed, each as long as a day. Thoughts rushed through my mind, like the snowflakes blown unpredictably by the wind, until another glimpse of Dad’s boot interrupted the internal ramblings. Still motionless, the old man appeared carved into the side of the log. I stared at that last drop, realizing now that it would never break away. I felt the cuffs of my jeans, drenched earlier at the creek. They were frozen, too, fixed in their folds like ice sculptures.
I pulled my hoodie over my face and tried to drift into sleep. But I couldn’t. No one could. It was just too cold.