Thursday, November 24, 2011

into the woods

Hunting. The word is evocative, is it not? Animals? People? Lost things? Here are accounts of the last two seasons, where I talk about why I hunt and about the hunting itself, but I'm in more of a philosophical mood this evening.

I spent the weekend in a tree. Well, propped up against a tree, really, but certainly out there in the woods. Spending intentional time like that, for hours on end, is an experience unparalleled by anything else I can think of at the moment. Certainly not by anything that's part of my day-to-day existence. I mean think of it. Have you ever tried standing still for an entire day? Two days in a row?

My brain unfocuses. I find my thoughts wandering between a mix of the following: any discomfort I'm feeling (aching muscles, cold feet, wet hands from brushing snow off the stand... you get the idea). Missed opportunities with the deer I've seen so far (how could I have done that differently? How would I do it now if it happened again?). Imagining deer coming toward my stand (it's weird - sometimes you feel that if you just wish hard enough, it will happen. Of course, it never really does!) Praying - for the other hunters to get deer, for myself to get a deer, for life stuff, for people I care about. Re-running movies in my head. Singing songs in my head. Watching wildlife - this time around it was a mix of nuthatches, squirrels, chickadees, woodpeckers, a bald eagle, and (the highlight!) snow geese. I didn't know they were snow geese till later when Javier identified them for me... but so cool to see non-native birds migrating through! Trying to decide if it's time to mix things up - am I getting cold enough to need to walk around? Should I eat something? How much longer should I wait for something to happen before doing something different? Thinking about my Dad... it goes with the territory this time of year. And then...

I hear something. Maybe it's a clump of snow falling, so I listen for a pattern. Mmmh, there is a pattern, but what kind of pattern is it? Leaves rustling in discrete bunches of sound? I stare intently at the woods in the direction of the sound...and sure enough. It's a tiny squirrel making big noise. [wait an hour or two]. Ok, this time there's a pattern... but it's TOO regular. Clump, clump, clump, SNAP, clump, clump. Sure enough, over the rise appears a bright orange hat, face, jacket, gun and boots. One of my fellow hunters got cold and decided it was time to try to "kick something up". We wave/hand signal/maybe chat quietly a bit and he moves on. After ten minutes, the woods quiet down again. [wait another hour or so]. Ok, I'm hearing another's moving fast, it kind of "thunks", it starts and pauses and then goes very fast, and yep, I can sees something interfering slightly with the dark-and-white immovable starkness of the trees. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a deer. Or two. Or four. Now we have only to hope-hope-hope that it moves our way. That there are horns so we can try filling the buck tag.

With ALL of the above scenarios, my heart starts beating faster, I try quietly positioning myself in a way that will give an optimal shot from where I hear the sound, and I start shaking (cold? Adrenaline? Both?). If it turns out not to be a deer, all of this subsides. If it IS a deer, and if I shoot it (didn't happen this year), I might stay in my stand for five minutes, waiting for the trembling to subside before I trust muscles to take me safely down from my stand. And then it's time to track the deer, gut it, and figure out how to drag it to the nearest trail. See what I mean when I say this weekend is just so far out of the normal for my suburban, life?

I'm not sure I could make a case for any actual short or long term benefits of stepping out of "regular life" per se, but I can say I just love having the opportunity to do so?

I really loved, too, the hang out time with family and friends. Marc, Javier and I were again the Appleton contingent, and we had a nice drive back and forth, a really nice time with Dean, Dar, cousins Keith and Scott, and Scott's daughter Jessica. We ate great food (thanks Dar and Jenny!) played a ton of Smear, and laughed and laughed. None of us shot a deer (a first for us :( ), but still just had a great time being together and being out in the woods. And...just as Javier, Marc and I were about to leave, my third cousin Eric shot a buck he didn't need and asked if I wanted to tag it. Heck yes I did! I went to where he was and was able to catch up a bit with a bunch more of the guys that I've hunted with since I was in high school...good times. Good times AND venison to eat for the coming year - life is good.