We caught scent of the smoke before we saw it. It served as beacon of savory fragrance guiding us home. You could smell the hickory wood burning in the stone fireplace. Surely the cook was at work. Probably a Brunswick stew. And by the evidence of the smoke's aroma, laced with bourbon whiskey.
Old blue-eyed Squire took to jumping at the first sound of old friends laughing together at stories told back and forth. It seems that in the gloaming of these winter day, a number of the men would take advantage of the last light for one more breath of fresh air before hunkering down for the night. Squire let out three quick barks, signaling to the lodge that we were nearly completed with our return. As soon as we caught sight of the lodge, four of the men caught sight of us, then standing a bit taller gave the Padre, Squire and me a wave. At the same time, one of the Huskies came running out to meet Squire. Squire, first turned to check with the Padre if he might run ahead to meet his friend, and having received that permission, he took off in full run, ending up with both dogs jumping into each other in a playful wrestle.
Our arrival seemed to trigger the time for all to reenter the lodge. A fellow in a dark green parka and white woolen cap help opened the door for us; Squire dashing in first followed by the Padre and me.
Two instant transformations took place with those few steps that crossed the threshold of the door: our world of quiet tones suddenly became a world of roaring life and our world of backwoods cold became a world of fireside warmth.
Granddad walked over to me in a rather strange, straightforward way. With one deliberate intention, caught hold of my eyes with his eyes in a penetrating gaze and took firm grip with his farmer's hands both my shoulders. He said nothing. Then a peaceful pride seemed to come upon him and with it also a glint of his fully knowing all the mysterious happenings of the day.
After this silent exchange, he headed me to the fire so that I might have a chance to melt the cold out of my bones. I sat near the huge cast iron pot. Yep, I was right. Brunswick stew. And as the cook poured in another swig of Kentucky bourbon into the pot, I knew I had been right all the way.
We all ate hearty and long that night like you would expect lumberjacks to do. And we all sang songs that everyone knew and told stories that probably everyone knew. But the songs, someone would add a new verse or two; and the stories, someone would add a new twist or two as well. This is as lumberjacks do as well, on long winter nights, with nothing else to do but to make all that has been just a bit richer than it once had been.
We played in that sweet reverie of hickory smoke late into the night. But when the fires began to descend into their embers, the men and their dogs made their ways to their cabins. With no mention that I did remember, Granddad and I headed off with the Padre and Squire to spend the night with them.
In the moonlight, the whole place seemed pale blue. The stars were many and the moon was near full and low, already hiding behind the western trees. In the air, Squire and I could faintly hear the howl of the prowl of a distant pack. We both listened for a time and then we both chose to listen no more.