I slowly opened my eyes and inhaled deeply. There is nothing on Earth that smells as sweet or as refreshing as a peaceful morning. The aroma of pine hangs heavily in the air and the columbine flowers are beginning bloom. I have set up my home in paradise.
Just looking out my front door I am greeted by the sight of mighty evergreens towering into the sky. I have always loved the smell of pine ever since I was a child. I cleared the very edge of a forest inlet to build my home. I would have built in the middle of the forest, but I did not want the trees to obscure my view of the lake. Directly across the lake from my cottage, the Earth bends up to meet the sky. The twin peaks always wear white crowns and the sun nestles down between them every evening.
The most wonderful aspect of my location is how far removed from the rest of the world I am. Using the King's personal steeds to cross the land and the strongest oarsmen in the kingdom to cross the lake, it would still take four days to reach my sanctuary from the Outer Wall. This allows me to live out my retirement in absolute seclusion.
An additional benefit to living so far from the hunters is the amount of wildlife that does not yet know to fear mankind. There are myriads of creatures that pass unchallenged through my lawn on a daily basis. Some days, the heard of deer passes through moving from the northern bank of the lake to the river down south. Rarely, I will see the pack of six wolves following the deer, or searching for rabbits. At first I was alarmed to see such a strong pack of hunters so close to my home but after five years they have only made friendly gestures towards me. Never before had I even heard the town drunk relate tales of wolves enacting kindness, but I build my home in a paradise and I don't care to ask any more questions.
But among all the animals that grace my yard with their presence, I have only let one into my home. One day, I lay fast asleep in my hammock in mid-June during the heat of the day. A slight breeze was rocking the hammock from side to side beneath two deciduous trees. The gentle rustle of leaves kept a soothing rhythm in my ears. I had begun to slowly awake as I perceived rain drops on my hand and forearm. I peered through bleary eyes toward the dampening limb hanging just outside the hammock. Suddenly all my hair stood on end. Not only was the sky vacant of clouds, but a red fox was licking my arm! The fox had not noticed that I was awake yet and I was content to see what it would do. Normally I would have struck out at the fox, but sleep still had a firm grip on my mind and I was not altogether certain I was not still dreaming. I twitched my fingers just a little and the fox ended what I have now deemed a bath and curled up under the hammock and went to sleep. I tried to consider what was happening and what I should do about the fox if I wasn't dreaming, but the murmur of the leaves and the gentle waves washing across the shore soon brought me back to a full slumber.
When I finally awoke I checked under the hammock just to be safe, and sure enough, there was a fox fast asleep less than a foot away. I had seen other foxes around my house before but none of them had ventured this close before. I also knew I had never seen this particular fox. While he wore a red coat with a thick white strip down his stomach like other foxes, the white tip on his tail was unusually large.
Over the next several weeks Winston, as I called him, stopped by the house almost every day. He was not shy at all and would trot five feet away where ever I went. By the time that summer ended Winston never left my side. The only activity he did not enjoy was canoeing. Whenever I went out on the lake he would wait near the pier for me to return.
By the time the first snow rolled around I had no problem letting Winston into my home. For the most part he has been a terrific house guest. He never leaves a mess and he is always willing to keep my legs warm on winter's coldest nights. The only time Winston ever gets into trouble is when there is a blizzard that drags on for days. Without time to romp around outside, he gets into trouble wherever he can. He used to open cabinets and pull their contents out onto the floor. Sometimes he would even take a pot and hide it under the couch!
In time I learned to keep a ball about a foot in diameter that he could chase around the house. The way he plays with that ball warms my heart even on the coldest nights. From the other room I would hear his paws scuttling across the floor and hear the ball bounce into the wall, this has been my cue to go watch. I usually walk in while Winston is on his back and the ball is up in the air. Eventually he'll drop the ball and spend a good amount of time playing the "I will reach the ball and pull it back towards me without getting up even though it is two paw lengths away from me" game. He'll twist his body in an arc and push off with his back paws inching just close enough to be able to barely reach the ball with is paw and in an effort to reel it in, just pushes it farther away. The game always ends one of two ways. If the game occurs near the fireplace he will realize how much he loves the heat on his belly and will stretch out to twice his normal body length to soak up as much warmth as he can. Or, he becomes aggravated at the ball's defiance and springs into action! He hops up on all fours and then rears up onto his back legs. He then proceeds to give a couple warning strikes, half batting his paw a foot from the ball, then he attacks! He pounces three feet vertically into the air towards the ball. He then wrestles, swats, and pounces as the ball bounces around the room. There is not a more adorable sight.
For the past couple of years Winston and I have shared this bond. He responds to the name Winston and understands some nonverbal cues. When I'm upset, he comes to comfort me. Whenever he does something wrong, he goes and lies down for a while giving me an ashamed face until I go forgive him. One of our favorite activities to do is hunt, and he is good at his role. He coaxes, but never chases, prey towards me to where I have an easy shot. Between the two of us we have never had to go hungry.
Today, we were hunting deer. I kept a close eye on Winston as I grabbed my bow. He is quite familiar with the sound my bow makes when I string it. Still watching Winston, I bent the bow back and strung it. Even though he had been napping, his ears perked up and he began to look around the room for me. No matter how many times I see his eager preparation, I always enjoy it. Winston ran up to me anxious for me to show him what we were hunting. I pulled a strip of deer hide from the side of my quiver and watched his eyes light up. Deer was by far his favorite food. He eagerly paced by the door waiting for me to finish my preparations. I slung the bow across my shoulder so it lay just on top of my quiver. In the quiver I brought two arrows and a large knife.
As I opened the door, Winston shot out like a bolt of red lightening. We hadn't eaten deer for two months and he was excited. After blowing off some steam, it was straight down to business and Winston sat right in front of me waiting for the command. Yesterday I had seen the deer moving towards the river and pointed south. And once again a bolt of crimson lightening shot off into the distance. I started jogging towards the hunting ground and listened intently for Winston's signal as I neared the area.
Before too long I heard his two isolated yips, and heading in their direction found the heard right where I predicted they would be. They had split in half and fifty deer covered each bank of the stream. I replied with a solitary yip almost identical to Winston's. We both knew these deer were not afraid of foxes and the herd paid our conversation no heed. I drew my bow and nocked an arrow. Luckily for me, there was a doe on the outskirts of the heard that looked to weigh near one hundred twenty pounds. I took my stance, drew back the arrow, and let it fly. The arrow hummed as it sailed sixty yards through the trees followed by another twenty yards of prairie before finding the doe's heart. It died instantly. Winston appeared at my side holding a rabbit in his jaws to show that he was just as good a hunter as I was. I smiled at him and rubbed behind his ears. When the herd noticed one of the does had died, they moved to the far bank. Winston and I went over and grabbed the deer. My weight estimate was correct and I easily slug the carcass around my shoulders and we headed for home.