We flung our jackets off as we worked in rhythm digging through four feet of snow to free the door of the old deer shack.

The door squeaked in its familiar way as we finally stepped inside. I was relieved to see that everything was just as we had left it after the deer opener nearly four months ago. 

The three of us had snowshed two miles to get to this half buried hovel, pulling sleds loaded with grub, sleeping bags and gear. 

I was with two of my favorite men. “The Guy” was visiting from North Carolina. He is no stranger to winter and has mushed dogs on the Yukon River. “Ole” lives for snow and cross country ski races across the Midwest. I am a man who considers this place and the river it flanks a sacred sanctuary. 

I laid a fire and touched a match to the birch tinder. The Guy and Ole stowed our gear and shook out our sleeping bags to fluff up their insulating loft before tucking them on the old bunks. 

Pulling three chairs close to the wood stove, we basked in the sublime serenity.  We were sitting in the Amen Corner. We didn’t even raise our voices when a red squirrel scurried across the sleeping bags. We did wonder however, if we would see or feel the disturbed rodent again. Whose sleeping bag might entice the chickaree to nestle in? Mostly we sat chuckling and pausing during psalms of silence and reverence. 

Logging camps of yesteryears always had an “Amen Corner.” This was where the elder loggers pulled in stools or chunks of pine to sit around the fire to spin yarns and spout wisdom. At least in their minds it was wisdom.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the amen corner refers to a conspicuous spot in a church occupied by fervent worshippers. 

All of a sudden we heard a hiss like venting steam from hell itself. In the next instant, the warmed shack ceiling shrugged off its top hat of snow and the load slid down in a calamitous shimmy. The avalanche boomed and shook the antique walls, like some passage direct from the Book of Revelations.

We amen-ed with a hushed “wow.”

We feasted on a supper of typical logging camp fare, whistleberries, sometimes called “thunderberriess or homemade pork and beans. We resumed storytelling and offering empty solutions towards a better world. A world that in the words of one of the late shack elders “hasn’t been the same since they put a man on the moon.”

We slid into our sleeping bags. Each of us declared there was no company of a red squirrel. The crackling of the stove eased us to sleep.

The next day after stove top bacon and eggs, we explored upriver on skis and snowshoes. Not a living critter was seen but we found their tracks and storylines. There was a pile of ruffed grouse feathers. Snowshoe hare tracks. Grouse tracks stitched around trees and through thickets. A pair of wolves had single-filed their way over the deep snow looking for calories in a land scarce of them.  

It delights me to find an otter trail with its loping and sliding pattern. Otters make winter look like fun. I shudder at their indifference to cold water. 

I was most surprised by the spoor of a loping raccoon. With a world still engaged in a black belt winter, it seems odd the coon would be out and about. But increasing day length and the nudging of hormones prompted the raccoon to wander. Males, called boars, emerge from their dormancy earlier than the females.

On the third day, we rose from the bed and descended out of heaven.

We left the Amen Corner to the shy red squirrel. 

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