I see faces in a campfire.
I hear voices, too.
I see a parade of years. The parade floats represent hunting trips, overnight float fishing trips and camping trips. It's funny, because some of the images have nothing to do with camping or campfires. I see gobblers I've known in strut. I see mallards fluttering through bare trees all over Southeast Arkansas. I see bucks emerging from thickets.
All of the scenes are real. They all happened. The laughter is authentic. The conversations are as I remember them.
I only get reflective around campfires when I'm alone, as I am now at Old Belfast Hunting Club in northern Grant County. I came here this afternoon with high expectations, so high that I brought a video camera and a tripod. My primary goal was to shoot video of deer. My camera lens has fairly clear resolution at 170 yards in light far too dim to see through a riflescope.
I also brought a rifle, but I resolved to shoot only a mature buck. I've been proud of my resolve so far. On Saturday, for example, I watched three does feed contentedly for about 40 minutes. The breeze blew away from them, and they never suspected my presence.
Deer like this place better since I replaced the garish red siding on my deer stand with gray siding. Decked in red, it looked like a giant Christmas tree ornament. Deer were always suspicious of it and looked at it constantly. The gray, is almost invisible against the pines. Deer regard it lightly, if at all.
They were the first deer I saw this season. Finally, I decided to look at them through my riflescope, you know, just to get a better look. I recognize the progression. It's the first crack in my resolve. With a deer in the scope, it's easier to talk myself into pulling the trigger.
The mere thought activated the Aura of Bad Intentions. The moment I reached for the rifle, all three deer drifted into the thicket, and they didn't return. I was glad. Nothing ruins a good deer hunt like shooting a deer.
Riding my four-wheeler to my stand on Monday, I passed a doe about 15 yards inside a thicket. I backed up. The doe bounded about 15 yards and stared at me. I turned off the four-wheeler, but the deer stood like a statue. I shouldered my rifle and aimed at the motionless doe. I couldn't do it.
"I need a little more 'hunt' than that," I said to myself. I lowered my rifle, turned on the machine and continued to my stand. The doe did not run for as long as I saw her.
"That ain't hunting," Mike Romine said in a text message. "That is creating work."
It was the only deer I saw in an evening when I had such high expectations. They are in my spot now, enjoying my largesse and generosity under the protective cover of darkness while I stand beside a campfire processing every moment of this glorious Monday.
The hardwood trees in my thicket are just now changing color. Have you ever noticed how much noise an oak, hickory or sweetgum leaf makes on a still day when it makes its lover's leap to the forest floor? When a few cut loose in succession, they sound like a deer approaching. And then I see them falling, connect them with their clicking, swishing sounds, and feel kind of foolish.
With my hands in my pockets, I circle away from the swirling smoke and marvel over a good life well lived in the Arkansas pines. Welcome the newest float in my campfire parade.
These images are too sweet and too tasty to keep for myself. With cold fingers, I pull my cellphone from my jacket pocket and share them with friends.