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When Winter Turns Ballistic

'Over the river and through the woods' is no lyrical proposition

In northern New England, you can now see the forest for the trees. For the trees are bare and will stay that way for another five and a half months.

It is pleasant to walk in the woods these days; the air is crisp and the not yet rotted leaves crunch nicely underfoot.

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But I'm not going to do that for a while. Deer hunting season begins Nov. 15. And on that Saturday in Vermont, you had better not need a plumber or an electrician or a butcher or a baker, or anyone else whose skills and services keep our civilization civil.

They'll all be out in the woods, thinking fierce, and wearing orange to protect them from each other.

In my Irish heritage the wearing of orange is a political statement I don't wish to make. So I don't go in the woods during hunting season.

The debate over whether deer hunting rewards violence is muted here in Vermont. The "Don't shoot Bambi" argument doesn't thrive among people who understand that Bambi eats like a horse and breeds like a rabbit, and believe that starvation or cars would get him if hunters did not keep the herd in balance with the land's ability to support wildlife.

Besides, many Vermonters come from families in which venison has been a dietary staple for hundreds of years. Not so long ago, they point out, we were all hunters, dependent on our skill and patience to put food on our tables. Robin Hood and Daniel Boone, they say, became heroes for being very good at shooting deer and sharing their game.

The "Don't shoot Bambi" crowd also stays out of the woods in deer season, and so do Vermonters who are at odds with each other.

They're honoring local wisdom that says you never accept an invitation to go deer hunting from someone you think may not like you. That's because in northern New England you cannot get convicted for shooting someone with a rifle, outdoors, during deer hunting season. "I thought he was a deer!" is the best of all alibis. That was affirmed several years ago by the Maine jury that acquitted a hunter who had shot a woman who was hanging out the laundry in her back yard, while wearing white gloves.

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So I stay out of the woods and watch fall turn into winter. The calendar is wrong about when that happens, especially in the north. Winter begins long before the official December date.

Fortunately there are more holidays clustered in the winter, because the dark of the year is when we need them most. In the gray of November and December, when each day is shorter and colder than the last, it's important to have Thanksgiving and Christmas shining out there ahead like beacons in the gloom. And then there's New Year's Day, and Super Bowl Sunday, surely at least an informal holiday by now. And then St. Valentine's Day, which is devoted to the selling of candy and greeting cards. And President's Day, whose custody is now in dispute between discount stores and used car dealers. And then it will be time to notice the days are getting long again.

That's a long way to look forward, but you can't go into the tunnel of winter without at least imagining the light at the end.

* Steve Delaney, former host of Monitor Radio Early Edition, lives in Milton, Vt.

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