The Fourth River

Tributaries: “Dawnbreak”

By on October 12, 2016

By Christopher Robey


October 20th, 2013—

You wait, you watch, you listen, and the land speaks…


Splayed out flat on the deer stand’s plywood floor, I scrawled these words in the margin of a journal page. I screwed my eyes in the blue half-light and shifted among the cracked acorn shells to see what I had written—hard to tell whether the letters had a line, at least, or if I’d overlaid them. I set the pen and journal off into the darkness at my side, knowing I wouldn’t find them again until the sun came up, and joined my father in gazing out across the ridgetop pasture toward its wooded edge.

That morning we’d risen at 4 a.m., while the stars were still clear and bright, to hike up to the ridgetop before the deer would be moving.  It was the primeval hour before dawn—the woods were a tangle of branch-silhouettes, and beyond the darkened tree line, a dim glow emanated.

The world seemed shrunken down to the pasture itself, as if all that lay outside it—the woods, the New River and the ridges beyond its banks—had condensed to a primordial darkness. Each moment passed in measured breaths and heartbeats spurred by the distant roar of wind through the treetops, like the sound of blood rushing. The pines bowed, and every branch and needle quivered with the possibility of the deer’s appearance.

I huddled deeper into my coat, shivering. Dad shifted and reached for the rifle at his side. It had been my Paw Paw’s, his father’s—a Winchester .30-30 with a smooth walnut stock. Pressing his eye to the scope, he scanned the treeline then passed the rifle to me. It was not loaded.

A low mist had gathered and glided across the pasture, pooling in its folds and furrows, obscuring the edge between pasture and woods. As the glow spread, blossoming from azure to bronze, the mists faded, furled themselves into the woods’ deep hollows, down in the creek beds, over the cliff’s edge. Gradually, the forms of things emerged.

Solid and distinct, the trees stood forth, stark as obelisks, and gathered the mists about themselves like a shroud. The clover and broom sedge glimmered with frost. Overhead, the stars faded, and the first rays of morning fell upon the pasture as if for the first time. Dawn broke upon the upper New River Valley.

We stood and shaded our eyes, leaving the rifle at our feet.

“No deer this morning,” Dad said, and a smile lit his face.



Christopher Robey is a recent graduate of Appalachian State University in Boone North Carolina. Currently, he works as an assistant trail crew leader for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, a regional nonprofit devoted to wilderness stewards