COME SEPTEMBER, my annual ritual is preparing my pickup truck for the bird hunting seasons that will open later in the month and extend into January. I have done this for 50 years now, and it always excites me with the promise of the autumn ahead.
Part of this ritual is practical: cleaning out accumulated junk and clutter from behind the seats, on the dashboard, in the glove compartment, jammed into the door pockets, and tucked behind the sun visors. But part of it is symbolic and sacramental: a rite of some pagan religion, if you will, that marks the autumnal equinox and begins the progression of the next five cycles of the Moon – full to dark to full again – that define the part of the year during which I am preternaturally aware and connected to the wild of nature.
I call these ceremonial observances my Autumn Ablutions, a wiccan practice of cleansing oneself or a sacred object as an act of respect and adoration. The history of these nature-worshipping ablutions, purification by washing, dates back to the mid-16th century, and who am I to deny the spiritual power of a ritual established 400 years ago by cultures much more in communion with the Earth and the Universe than we are today? I am not sure about the mystical forces embodied in a Ford F-150 pickup, but I depend on it for nearly all my fall excursions afield and so I am will to invest the old truck with anthropomorphic personae.
At the end of a summer of farm work and wood cutting my pickup’s box is a jumble of wood chips, tangles of barbed wire, a few steel fence posts, several rusted or broken tools, a chain, a frayed length of rope, a few empty beer cans, and whole lot of dog hair. The window glass is smeared and the body’s filthy interior and mud-spattered exterior look as though I have finished dead last in some cross-country race across northern Uzbekistan.
Then comes September and the F-150’s transformation during a day of ablutions. A week or two before our first bird hunt – this year to north-central Minnesota in pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock – I am seized by a cleaning mania that is clearly a pagan rite of a cleansing of the soul and the mind, symbolically washing the pickup in preparation for the sacred days of hunting. Or, perhaps, I am ashamed for my hunting buddies to see how poorly I treat my truck in the off season.
The F-150 will never appear factory-new again, but I do my best to make it look its best. I plug in the shopvac, fill a bucket with soapy water, and take in hand the sponges, scrub brushes, and terrycloth rags needed. With a bag full of wax and polish cans, vinyl cleaner bottles, and Windex spray containers, I have at it. Because a year’s worth of dirt, grease, and grime has to be removed the ablutions demand five or six hours of my time. I start by throwing everything out of the cab that’s not fastened down, using a garden hose to spray it out (being careful not to flood any electrical circuits), then scrubbing the topper-covered box with soapy water before moving on the wash the outside.
The exterior is drudgery. Spray it, sponge it with soapy water, spray it again, wipe it down, then apply Turtle Wax. I’ve learned to wax only about 10 square feet of surface at a time; once the thin coating of wax hardens, wiping it off is a pain, especially when standing on a four-step ladder. But the results are amazing. The old truck really shines.
By the time I mop out all the puddles with towels, I’ve had more than enough fun. The finale is hefting the two-level shelf unit into the truck box, sliding the tool drawer into it, and setting the dog’s travel crate atop it. Ablutions completed.
My October 9 week of bird hunting in Minnesota is rushing up. This will probably be the last year for the old F-150, built in 2006 and groaning a bit in its 16th year. A new Ford Ranger pickup is supposed to be coming in December, depending on the factory’s success in getting computer chips for its more advanced technology. My F-150 does not have that problem; even the windows are operated with crank handles.
I know I’m going to have a hard time saying good-bye to this old gray truck. Together, we’ve been through a lot of adventures – and misadventures. But don’t look too far ahead, I tell myself. This season could very well be my final one, not the truck’s!
Today, we’re both cleaned up and ready to go. Wish me a great autumn.
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