The alarm clock cracks the silence of the dark room. It’s 4:30 a.m. The excitement of the opening day of deer season overcomes any feelings of being tired, and the hunter slips quietly out of bed so as not wake his wife. But she already is awake and wishes him a successful hunt. She finishes with, “Be careful.”

He walks into the kitchen where the pot of coffee has already finished brewing and pours a cup. The lone light filling the room comes from the range hood over the stove. He drops a couple of slices of bread into the toaster and cracks a pair of eggs into the frying pan that he left on the stove top before going to bed. In short time, he finishes his breakfast and pours the remaining coffee into his thermos. He takes his already prepared sandwich and places it into the lunch box he normally takes to work.

He dresses in his blaze orange jumpsuit. Pulls on his boots and laces them up around his ankles. He grabs his orange stocking hat and gloves and heads to the door. His trusty shotgun waits by the door along with a box of shells. His dad gave him this gun. He shot his first buck with it. His dad shot a buck with it on his last hunt. Maybe today, this trusty firearm will bring luck again.

He heads outside and gets into his reliable old pickup truck. He fires up the engine, recalling when she was brand new. This will be the last year he drives this old beater into the woods as he plans to buy a new used truck next spring. He finishes scraping the frost off the windshield. The headlights pierce the dark and he drives off to his favorite hunting spot.

Twenty minutes later, he arrives. The land he is hunting belongs to a local farmer. He earned the right to hunt this land by helping him out over the years. They met while he was doing some odd jobs for the farmer during the recession in the late 1970s. The extra money helped as the work dropped off and the young man couldn’t find enough carpentry opportunities to support his young family.

Both men, the hunter and the farmer, are older now. He’s repaid his former boss over the years by pitching in with small jobs as a way to repay the old man for helping him when he needed it. He steps out into the crisp cold morning air.

He quietly walks the dark path into the woods as the leaves crunch beneath the weight of his steps. The small flashlight he had in his pocket brings him to his tree stand. He climbs up and straps himself in. He turns off his light. It is dark. He looks at his watch and waits.

After a short while, his vision adjusts. He still cannot see his greater surroundings, but he can now see his hands. His breath seems to expose the air as he exhales and the crystals catch the light breeze. Other than that, the air is still. The woods are silent.

As his eyesight begins to adjust, he realizes the morning light is nearing. The sun still is below the horizon. There is a loud crack. Still not able to see everything, the hunter can feel and hear his heart thumping in his chest. His mind races as he tries to envision the source of the noise.

The noise could have been anything. Was it a deer or another hunter? Maybe an old branch just gave way to age. It was close but not close enough to see. Suddenly, a loud crashing of leaves seems to be racing across the forest floor. It’s loud but likely just a squirrel. The light continues growing brighter.

More squirrels are moving around. The chipmunks are chattering as they scamper across the leaf-carpeted floor. Birds are now chirping and fluttering from tree to tree. A turkey gobbles in the distance. The woods are loud now. The din of these forest creatures seems deafening compared to the silence and makes it impossible to hear if any deer are approaching.

The sun finally pierces over the horizon and suddenly the woods are quiet again. There is a loud crack nearby. The hunter’s head spins to the source of the sound. The movement spooks his prey and all the hunter sees is the white tail. The hunt has begun.

Tim McCumber believes a bankrupt nation feeds no one.