April has been said to be the cruelest month. But, my vote for second place goes to November.
    The eleventh month drags on with it several transitions. That’s not good news for people who mistrust too many changes too soon.
    First, November brings the change away from Daylight Saving Time and back to Central Standard Time. Yes, it’s nice to have that morning light again, but that hour of early darkness simply adds to the overall dreariness that is the soul of November.
    Second, there’s the change in the weather. There’s not much we can do about it. Maybe the best tactic is to simply complain and then gird up our minds to endure.
    Here on our nine acres of southwest Wisconsin, we’ve been busily preparing the A-frame, Fred the Shed, and the two chicken houses against the coming cold. A primary project has been stockpiling our supply of fuel for the basement stove nicknamed, Elvis, and our main-floor stove nicknamed, Soapie, because she is built primarily of soapstone.
    We buy our wood from the son of an organic dairy farmer. He and his dad milk 35 cows and live 15 miles away.
    Now, just a few days before Thanksgiving, Derek has delivered the wood for piles. One pile contains remnants from last year’s purchases. Another, by Fred the Shed, is earmarked for boiling 2018’s maple sap. A third pile by the sidewalk that leads to the front door is our Soapie stack.
    Our fourth pile is by far the largest and lies down the hill by the basement’s back doors. This stack has been christened Mount Woodmore.
    I haven’t taken a tape measure to Mt. Woodmore, but I estimate his height at about eight feet. I figure his width at maybe 15 feet and that his length extends perhaps 25 feet.
    He is a ponderous pile. He should be, for he contains 10 pickup loads of wood, plus 10 trailer loads.
    How many cords that is, I do not know. But it’s all nicely split and cured and ready for Elvis.
    Whenever I venture near Mt. Woodmore, my nose catches the spicy scent of oak. The smell of the orange-red wood takes my mind to thoughts of autumn leaves, acorns and squirrels.
    We built our first heating fires back in October. But now, with nights more earnestly cold we start the fires earlier and tend them with more care. In between, we let the gas furnace rumble and blow like some indoor thunderstorm. For us, gas and good oak make a fine combination.
    November in rural Wisconsin evokes images of white-tailed deer. When I visit with farmers at this time of year, there’s one question I like to ask: Got your 30-point buck tied up?
    The answer is often preceded by a chuckle. The legendary buck was immortalized in a song and is the ultimate white-tailed buck of this or any state.
    I’ve seen him myself on many an opening morning. Darkness hides me from him, but it does not hide him from me.
    Eyes opened or closed, it does not matter. I watch as the monster buck magically takes form from within the darkness. I watch as he sniffs the morning breeze, head held high, black nose damp and quivering. I watch as he takes steps, tentative at first, then bold, and comes to me.
    Then I nod and suddenly awaken. The buck is gone.
    We haven’t had a lot of brilliant fall color in Crawford County. Some folks blame it on the higher-than-normal temperatures that blessed us much of the fall.
    But with the opening of our main gun deer season at hand on Nov. 18, the colors have started to pop. Clotheslines, porch railings and branches are ablaze with blaze orange, as some 600,000 optimistic hunters air out their clothing from the accumulated odors of a winter, spring and summer indoors hung in dark closets and stashed in musty basements.
    My orange coat and orange overalls hang on the railing of the deck. I plan to wrestle myself into them during the wee, dark hours of Nov. 18.
    Due to the thickness of the clothing, plus a couple of layers underneath, I will have to waddle up the driveway and into the overgrown field where I will occupy my spot that affords a view of the ravine and the king oak. That massive white oak anchors the head of the ravine where it meets the neighbor’s soybean and cornfields and helps hold the soil against the twin forces of raindrops and flowing water.
    That wooded and brushy ravine is a favored travel route for deer and other things wild. If a deer, squirrel, fox, coyote or turkey manages safe passage across the county road that winds along the spine of Wauzeka Ridge, it only needs to maneuver a few hundred feet down the hill and into the ravine’s refuge.
    Once in or alongside the ravine, it’s a short scamper into a thick tangle of blackberry canes and prickly ash. Once that gauntlet has been navigated, there’s another obstacle. But for deer, slipping under or gliding over the four-strand barbed wire fence is no difficult feat.
    Once past the fence, it’s down the hill through a beef cow pasture and woods. Next stop: Plum Creek, way down at the bottom of the valley.
    Come opening morning, I’ll be watching the upper reaches of the ravine, near the king oak. I’ll listen for gunshots down the hill, too, for other hunters invariably push deer up from the valley.
    With a little luck, I’ll get a shot at one of the 1.3 million deer that call America’s Dairyland home. With a little more luck or imagination I’ll get a quick glimpse of the elusive 30-point buck.