There’s a wonderful and deep silence that’s part of the discipline of hunting. It takes a little while for the quiet to wrap itself around me and twine itself through me, and it takes a while for my mind to learn to read it and understand it. Read more »
The wind blew pretty hard a couple days ago as I sat in my treestand. The gentle rocking of the tree in the wind gave me a sense of security.
It’s not a particularly old tree – probably 30 or 40 years old would be my guess. In those years sitting on the edge of the Kansas prairie, it’s seen wind far greater than anything I’d want to sit through. It’s bent and swayed in the fury of winter blizzards and summer thunderstorms.
Though the wind felt big and strong the other evening, it was nothing compared to what my tree had seen in its lifetime, and knowing this made me feel particularly secure. As the tree swayed back and forth, creaking and groaning occasionally, I knew this flexibility was what made it strong. Rather than spending all it’s energy fighting the wind, it learned to use the wind to stretch and build a pliable strength. Roll with the breeze, bend with its fury.
It wasn’t a particularly good evening for hunting, as the wind made it unlikely I’d take many shots – the wind would make the flight of the arrow too unpredictable. But the gentle rocking ride was worth the time spent waiting for the wind to subside.
Eventually, it did indeed subside, and I watched the cover of a full-moon night slip over the quiet prairie in front of me, and the woods behind me. A doe came out and spent a little time in the meadow as darkness grew. A possum made his way noisily through the underbrush, and a couple raccoons squabbled briefly but loudly over some territory nearby. The songbirds tucked away one by one, and a beautiful sunset unfolded over my shoulder.
There was still enough breeze to carry the smell of a newly lit fire in a wood-stove somewhere upwind from me, as somebody settled in to enjoy a room warmed by a fire. It was past shooting light, but I was in no hurry to climb down out of my tree. I felt particularly good, and the bright full moon would light my walk back home.
Life was, indeed, quite good.
Part 2 – Fragility
It’s mid-November, a time when I disappear into the woods for a while each year. First for several days on the western slope of the Rockies hunting elk with my son, then into the Kansas prairie for a couple weeks of hunting whitetail deer where the prairie and the timber meet.
As I write this post, the Jewish calendar is bringing a little known but intriguing holiday to a close. After the High Holidays have passed each year, the holiday of “Sukkoth” requires the faithful to move from the comfort of their homes into temporary “huts” constructed on porches, backyards, and driveways. I’m sure there are many dimensions to this holiday, but the aspect I’m fascinated by just now is the shift of focus from materialism and greed as the center of our lives over to a focus on spirituality as the center of our life.
There are traditions within many religions that draw the worshipper into a time of asceticism, though in our comfortable and pampered life we like to ignore these traditions whenever we can. It’s just so much bother, you know, and really, isn’t it much more efficient and enjoyable to just do the fun traditions?
Sukkoth doesn’t seem to be about asceticism just for the sake of sacrifice. Rather, I get the strong and consistent message that it’s more about separating myself from the vast material comforts that I enjoy, in order to bring my focus back to my “place” here on earth, and how my actions and my life impact Creation as a whole. Like the short moment of prayer many families share as they sit down to a meal, letting us take a breath and truly appreciate the gifts and bounty we’ve been given.
Focus. As a hunter and a birder, I use binoculars (or field glasses) a lot. When using them, it’s important to move them to your eyes, then away from your eyes. Back and forth, seeing the big picture, then zooming in on detail. So long as my eyes are seeing the world through the glasses, they don’t have the ability to see the big picture.
Day to day, we’re so focused on “bringing home the bacon”, or “getting ahead at the office”, or even on watching the football games or “face-booking”, that we fail to see the big picture. We walk through life with the binoculars against our eyes. (Try that sometime, by the way, and see how quickly you stumble and fall…)
During Sukkoth, we take the binoculars away from our face, and see the world around us. We see our place in the world, and spend a little time understanding how our actions impact those around us. In our “me-oriented” culture of selfishness, we like to focus a lot more on “rights” than on “responsibilities”. We like to think we can do whatever we want within the law – that this is our “right”.
Reminds me of this old story, “A man in a boat begins to bore a hole under his seat. The other passengers in the boat with him protest. ‘What concern is it of yours?’ he responds, ‘I’m making a hole under my seat, not yours.’”
We’ve undergone a radical and dangerous transformation in our culture in recent years, resulting in a consumer-based economy that puts more value on “cheap” than it does on “right” or “good”. Our homes and driveways are filled with the results of this destructive transformation. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, over half of them are large corporations – less than half are actual nations. My vote as a consumer might matter more in the world today than my vote as a citizen of a nation. How wisely do I vote?
While I’m not Jewish, I think I can learn a good deal from this holiday. I’ve never taken the time to see a relationship between Yom Kippur and Sukkot in the past, but I see it this year. My need for atonement reaches deep across the world I live in and my place in that world. Creation, atonement, and my place in the picture.
A week spent eating and sleeping in a cardboard hut might do me good.
This year, as I spend my time living a simple and sparse life in the woods while I hunt, I’ll think a lot about Sukkot. The time is always a very spiritual time for me, but this new understanding opens a path for even greater reflection and meaning.
And I’ll be sure and take the binoculars away from my face when I want to walk…
In the pale inky darkness my eyes catch a tiny bit of movement in the field about 100 yards in front of me. There’s a sliver of faint pre-dawn light along the eastern horizon, which provides a hint of light on the meadow.
Peering through my binoculars, I can see the form more clearly – a single deer moving across the open field in the darkness. It moves like a doe, but the fact that it’s moving alone leads me to believe it’s a young buck – either looking for trouble or trying to stay out of it.
The rut seems to be peaking this week, and the growing energy in the woods has me amped with the hope of strong activity today. Tomorrow is the full moon, so this little sliver of morning is the only real darkness the deer have seen tonight. Typically, a full moon tends to bring the rut to a fever pitch, and the electricity in the air is nearly palpable this morning.
As the light builds, I hear a doe off behind my left shoulder snorting. She could be warning her group of a danger, or trying to get them back together into a group before daybreak. I hear the footsteps of deer in the woods back over my right shoulder, but am unable to see anything when I crane my neck and watch over that shoulder. I suspect that there’s a doe that’s split off from her group, interested in gaining the attention of a nearby buck. That would explain the snort a few minutes ago as well – the dominant doe trying to bring her group back together.
I rattle a bit with the antlers I’ve got up in my stand with me, seeing if I can attract the attention of any bucks in the area. By the time the sun is rising, I’ve rattled 3 or 4 times, and have watched 3 different bucks flitting nervously around the area. My rattling is almost meaningless, as the group of does close by has all the attention of the bucks in the area.
I hear the prancing footsteps of deer over my right shoulder again, and this time I can see a lone doe, with a decent buck chasing her. She ducks down into the creek, about 75 yards to my right, and I see the buck head down that way.
It’s interesting watching a buck chasing a doe in heat. He spends a good deal of time with his nose down on the ground, following her scent. Even when she’s in sight right in front of him, he’ll drop his nose to the ground as he moves – snorting that pheromone drug off the ground as he moves toward the object of his lust. This is what gets so many of ‘em killed on the highways this time of year – they’re completely oblivious to the world around them – focused completely on that object of lust leaving a trail for him to follow.
This morning, his object of lust is in the mood, and anxious to be caught. Occasionally, he slows down too much for her – spending too much time sniffing in the leaves after her – so she stops and waits for him to catch up a bit. I see her at the edge of the creek bank, having climbed the other side now, and waiting to make sure her buck sees where she heads. He apparently does, so she gallops off to the hedgerow where I’m sitting, stopping 20 yards from me to look back over her shoulder again.
I suspect she catches some scent from me, because she doesn’t wait long before jumping the fence beneath me, and scampering up the lane a bit. She stops there 30 yards from my brother-in-law, who’s tucked back into a cedar tree, and looks him square in the eye for a few seconds before heading up the hill.
Meanwhile, her suitor has stopped beneath my stand, and has his head up looking for that which he is pursuing. He casts his nose just a bit to catch the scent of her direction, and bounds over the fence and after her. He, too, will stop and look at my brother-in-law from 30 yards away, before heading up into the woods in pursuit of the object of his passion.
This dance won’t go on long. She’ll let him catch her, and nature will run its course. Afterward, she’ll go find her group and settle back into the routine of survival. If nature didn’t take its course, and she’s not pregnant, then she’ll likely go through another estrus cycle in a month or so. More than likely, nature will take its course, and she’ll drop a fawn or two into spring litter on the forest floor.
And next year, this little enclave of deer in this little corner of the universe will have evolved through one more generation.
I’ll look forward to sitting in this stand again next year, watching the frenzy of the rut as it develops. I’ll carry with me the lessons I’ve learned on this hunt, and look forward to lessons waiting for me still.
You generally have to sit a lot of hours in a treestand before you get a chance to see a truly spectacular buck within bow range. Before this morning, it happened once to me, when I didn’t have a tag for a buck. On that morning, I watched as the monster pawed and dug up the ground on a little hillock in front of me. After a good 10 minutes, he finally meandered slowly over to my tree, looked directly up at me, and sauntering slowly into the forest behind me.
I wasn’t expecting another chance this morning. When it happened, my lack of good preparation of shooting lanes from my stand forced me into a difficult ethical decision regarding the shot I was presented with.
It started soon after sunrise – maybe 45 minutes or so into shooting light. I’d rattled a few times, but hadn’t seen anything yet. I hear the casual rustle of a deer behind me, and slowly crane my neck around the tree to see what it was. A buck who was probably a 2 year old is back there, sniffing through the leaf litter on the forest floor.
A short rattle brings his head up, and gets him headed across the creek over toward me. He isn’t an animal I’m going to shoot, but I’m hoping I can get him headed up the hill toward my brother-in-law, who is looking only for meat, and isn’t going to be picky about antlers. Luckily, he points himself up the right path, and I’m able to drop a line to give him a casual little spook up that trail.
I sit and wait, expecting to hear the twang of an arrow soon, but am disappointed when the young fella’ spook out of the hedgerow and into the meadow in front of me. A nice try, I think, but we missed out chance at that one. But watching him looking back over his shoulder into the hedgerow, there’s something different about the way he spooked out. He’s watching something intently, but if he’s seeing a person, he’d be runnin’.
I’m wondering if it might be another buck that spooked him out, when movement a little higher up the hedgerow catches my eye. Stepping slowly but deliberately toward the young buck is a magnificent animal about twice his size. His swollen neck was in perfect proportion to the huge basket of antlers he carries like a crown on his head. The mahogany colored antlers sport at least 6 points on a side, though I didn’t really do a detailed analysis. The upright prongs are long and deadly.
The young fella wants no part of this big boy, and they both know it. After assuring the young guy is headed safely away from his territory, the big boy slowly starts to move across the open field. This action has all taken place about 50 yards in front of me.
I’m not sure what happened back there in the hedgerow, but my intuition tells me that this big boy had been attracted to the rattlin’ that I’d been doing, and was slowly making his way down toward the sound. I’ve seen this happen before, where the big boys approach a rattle like a grey ghost, staying silent and hidden until they get a good look at who’s sparring. I suspect the big ones let the battle play out, then move in to chase off both the victor and the defeated – both of whom are likely worn out by the battle they just played out.
In either case, I know I’m glad this big guy decided that the young fella was the source of the noise, and had come out into the open. Now that I had him out, I want to see if I can get him over to me and into one of my shooting lanes. I’m cursing silently to myself that I didn’t do a better job of clearing lanes.
I give a short, rapid rattle. His head snaps back toward me immediately. I realize immediately that I was probably too hasty, as he’s now approaching me from my most visible angle, making it hard to pull a draw on him unless he turns away from me. To make matters worse, the breeze is blowing right across me and toward him. It would have been smarter to let him get across the field before I rattled, so his approach to me would have given him less advantage than he now has. Too late – write this one down in the lesson book. Patience, grasshopper…
He saunters toward me with that “cock of the walk” embodiment of pure strength and grace that only a massive whitetail buck can display. I’m sitting dead still, avoiding a direct stare into his eyes as he stares directly at me while approaching to find the source of the rattle he’d just heard. At about 30 yards, he stops to evaluate. If he’ll only look away for a minute, I can draw and be ready for him. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, he starts his walk again, stopping at 25 yards and presenting a perfect broadside shot to me. But I can’t get a draw on him while he’s staring directly at me.
I wait, and he walks out of the shooting lane and behind some brush. Rapidly but silently, I draw and aim at his form moving behind the brush. Rather than walking into the next lane, he detours a bit, and decides to rub up a small sapling. I’ve been holding this draw for long enough that my arms and shoulders ache, so I let down to wait.
Four times I draw on him as he moves around in the brush beneath me, and four times I let down as he stays out of the shooting lanes. There are two lanes that I should have cleared, and had I done so, I’d be planning a trip to my taxidermist. Few things in life bring the bitter taste of regret to a hunter’s heart as much as holding a draw on the animal of a lifetime as he moves behind some twigs that should have been cleared in preparation for the hunt.
A couple times he stops behind sparse vegetation, and I can easily loose the arrow. There’s a good chance the arrow will clear through the twigs and make a good hit where I’m aiming. There’s also a better than fair chance it will glance off one of the twigs, and result in a poor shot.
I hold and wait. It’s the right decision – the ethical decision – and the one that stings the most.
He eventually catches a big enough snootful of my scent that he decides this is not the spot for him, and trots off. I try rattling again, but am unable to get him to reconsider. He’s seen what he needs to see, and doesn’t like it.
My curses are aimed at my laziness in not clearing shooting lanes well enough, and they aren’t quite as silent as they were a few minutes ago. I spend an hour in the late morning doing the work I should have done when I set the stand up, clearing the lanes properly. Like a penance that helps focus thought and reflection on the deed that earned the penance, I use the work to drive home the need to be more meticulous in my preparation in the future.
While I’m upset with myself for making such a novice mistake, I’m also grateful for the chance I had to watch this guy walking around within 20 or 30 yards for as long as he did. My encounter with him taught me some practical lessons. The bitter regret in my heart for a rare opportunity squandered is only slightly eased by the recognition that when faced with the tough ethical decision about whether or not to take a low-percentage shot, I came down on the right side of the decision.
I know that as time goes by, I’ll replay the events of this morning many times in my memory. I know that on many days, I’ll tell myself that I should have taken the shot through the branches.
I’ve made those sorts of bad decisions in my life, and I know the taste of the guilt and remorse the seeps out of the memory forever. On those days when I convince myself that I should have taken the risky shot, I’ll be only slightly comforted in the knowledge that it’s a regret that’s a lot easier to swallow and taste than the regret of a poor decision gone bad.
It’s counterintuitive, but focusing inward to quiet yourself opens your mind and senses more fully to the world around you.
I’m reminded of this each time I sit a treestand while hunting. I’ve isolated myself from human connection by retreating into a secluded spot in the woods. I’ve taken pains to enter the “space” of my treestand in a very slow and quiet manner, blending with the space around me as best I can. I’ve taken up a still and quiet posture in the treestand. I’ve focused a good deal of energy inward, on making myself as unobtrusive as possible. I want to become part of the space around me – to blend – rather than standing out as anything individual.
My body quiets and cools. I always need to dress warm for this, as my heartbeat drops to 50 or 55 as I focus inward on stillness. Vision and human language are the inputs our brain depends on the most these days in our evolutionary journey, and in the treestand, I’ve eliminated both of them. Even when the light is good, my vision is generally limited to a couple of shooting lanes close to my stand.
In this state, I tune much more keenly to the sounds in the space around me. As the pre-dawn darkness gives way to faint light in the east, the sound of tires on the highway several miles away becomes more common. I hear the squirrels roust from their nests, and hear their claws on the bark as they move through the trees around me. When they’re on the ground, I can tell exactly how many are down and where they are as they disturb the leaves they dig through.
I hear the beat of my heart in my chest, and the whoosh in my ears soon after each beat. Thu-whoosh, thu-whoosh. A slow and steady beat.
I hear a small flock of songbirds as they fly overhead, the sound of the air under their wingbeats giving me a good guess as to what birds they might be by how they’re beating their wings. A large flock of 30 or 40 birds sounds as loud as thunder as they thump past 50 feet above me – I hear the sound of their wings for 100 yards before they reach me, and 100 yards after they pass.
Mid-day on a nice day I hear a tiny scraping in the leaves not far away. I watch intently but see no movement. A mouse maybe? Training my binoculars on the spot, I eventually make out a small garter snake pulling himself out of the leaf litter into the warm sun.
The footsteps of deer around me tell me a good deal about what they’re doing even when I can’t see them. Are they nervously poking about, or calmly grazing? Are they talking to each other softly, or snorting a warning?
The movement of air becomes something my ears perceive in a way my eyes can’t. I map the movement of tiny gusts of air through the bare branches of the woods around me by the path of its sound, and am able to predict when I’ll feel it in my tree based on how my brain perceives the arms and reach of the pockets moving about.
I hear individual dry leaves bounce off branches as they flutter to the ground.
I smell the shift in the wind. The smell is damp and musty when the air moves across the creek and the forest floor before it gets to me, while it changes dramatically to grassy and dusty when it comes to me from the open field on the other side of me.
There’s a Chickadee who comes around in the evening, about the same time each day. I can hear Chickadees throughout the woods around me, flitting and buzzing, but this one seems to follow the same pattern on the same branches around the same time each afternoon. He’s very curious about me, often stopping on branches only a couple feet away from me and watching me before moving to another branch.
After a few days, I come to be able to recognize what kind of bird is fluttering through the woods by the sound of the air beneath it’s wings – the wingbeats of birds are sometimes quite distinctive.
Of course, when deer that might be prey come close, my senses zero in completely on the prey. But 99%+ of the time, I’m focused on remaining quiet and unobtrusive. Doing so opens me completely to the input of the world I’ve immersed myself into.
As my mind absorbs the space where I sit, my heart and soul become part of the Place where I sit.
It started raining just as I got set up in my treestand this morning. This is my hilltop treestand, one that I need to drive to get to. I park my truck about half a mile away, and walk in while it’s still good and dark. By the time I’m in the stand and ready, I’ve generated quite a bit of heat to keep me warm for the 30 minutes until the sky starts to show a little light.
It was a slow process this morning – the sky showing light. The clouds sort of mushed night and day together, so darkness crept slowly away as a gray light grew on the meadow in front of me. The rain was never particularly heavy, but combined with the wind, quickly burned up the reserve of warmth I built up hiking in. It wasn’t long until I was trying to work all the muscles I could internally, while remaining still on the outside, in order to generate a little more heat.
I started rattling as soon as the light was good enough to shoot. Nestled up against the face of the dark timber behind, I watched the gray meadow in front of me, and the edges that lead to the meadow.
The sound of the wind and rain jams one of the key senses that a deer has – their ability to hear – so they like to stay hunkered down when this sort of weather comes up. True to form, they stayed tight to their beds this morning, and I never saw a single deer moving.
I took a long and circuitous route back to my truck, exploring other corners. I found a spot or two that looks like it’s had more buck activity than the one I choose, but I’ll stick where I am.
I like the spot where I have this stand set up. I’ve had a couple of pretty magical encounters with deer while sitting here, and have come to think of it as my special mystical hilltop. Regardless of what happens this week while I sit at that meadow, being there fills my heart and soul with goodness and a deep connection to this Place.
The rain seems intent on keeping up all day. Even if it does, I’m thinkin’ I’ll spend some more time this evening with my mystical little corner of the world.
A nice buck is standing right behind the tree I’m in, sporting for a fight with another buck. There isn’t another buck here, but he thinks there might be based on the antlers I’ve rattled twice. He’ll walk into range for me in just a few minutes as he sniffs around looking for an opponent to size up.
I watch him walk past me. He’s within range, but he’s headed up to where my brother-in-law is sitting, and he’ll probably have a better shot than I will. Plus, it’s early in my week of hunting here, and I don’t want to use up my buck tag this early unless it’s a real big boy.
This morning is pristine and perfect. Right at about freezing, with the promise of a nice day, and the rut is just coming into bloom. Climbing up into this stand this morning I was reminded of how scary the climbs in the dark can be when there’s frost on the handholds, footholds, and stand. That last hoist onto the platform always gets the heart pounding.
I enjoy the scenery for the rest of the morning, not seeing any other deer. The squirrels who call this little corner home aren’t at all happy that I’ve taken up temporary residency here, and make their opinion quite clear to me. To make up for it, though, there are a couple of really friendly Chickadees who are quite curious about me, and often will land within a few feet of me as they flit about the branches. A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers find a good cache of something under the bark nearby, and work away for quite a while.
At one point, a Cooper’s Hawk, (of course, it could have been a Sharp Shinned), is flying silently through the branches straight toward me, and veers at the last minute. He flies within 2 feet of me, but far too fast for me to make out many details. The grace of his silent dance through the branches is breathtaking, and I suspect he’ll find breakfast pretty quickly as thick as the birds are in these trees.
In the evening, as I’m back in the stand again, the Chickadees have become even more curious and friendly. Though I wish the hawk good luck in his hunting, I’m glad that these little guys who add some social complexion to my solitary treestand didn’t end up as a meal for him today. Before the light goes completely, I’m able to get a new buck down here into my corner, but he’s not one I’ll shoot either – he’s probably a 3 year old.
After climbing down out of the tree, I squat quietly in on the damp ground for a few minutes to listen around me. Hoisting my pack and picking up my bow, I start a slow and quiet walk toward the house in the dappled moonlight of the lane. I’m comforted by the look of the house as I approach it, hearing the dogs barking up the lane a ways.
Few things feel as good to the heart as the sight of home as you approach it in the dark of a chilly night. The warm light pouring out of the windows into the chilly darkness fill you up inside with the promise of a warm fire inside. It’s hard to keep a smile off your face while looking forward to the friendly banter of family inside, and warm comfort food spooned into a bowl.
It feels good to be me right now, and my heart is full of thanks.
As I moved quietly through the moonless darkness, I could hear the tiny creaks and movements within to woods on my right, and I could feel the arms of the open prairie on my left. In the darkness, when you have surrendered to the world that you are moving through, it is as-though you can feel that world reaching out and exploring your soul – reaching inside of you to find what is there – exposing you and testing you. When it first happens, it is unnerving, but with each moment in surrender, it seems that both you and the little piece of world that you have surrendered to fall deeper and deeper into harmony and comfort.
I reached the tree that held my stand in its branches. It is not possible to be very quiet climbing into a tree, so this was the point in my morning trek where I could imagine any animals in the area looking my way, wondering what it was that was climbing into the tree in the darkness. Pulling my bow and pack up into the tree once I was in my stand, I settled into the familiar and comfortable position of resting, my bow across my lap with an arrow nocked. I occasionally used the antlers at my feet to rattle a bit, or sometimes would let a soft grunt float into the silence, but for the most part, I let myself find quiet.
And I listened.
I listened to my heart, as it slowed further and further. I could hear the sound of the blood pulsing through the arteries with each beat, becoming less loud as my pulse and blood pressure both declined. I could feel the thoughts in my mind begin to try and push their way into my immediate consciousness, and I resisted this by staying tightly tuned to listening.
My stand was in the branches of a tree that stood apart from the hedgerow beside it, close to the end where the hedgerow opened up into the prairie. At the very end of that hedgerow was a place that bucks commonly thought was prime real estate. There were many strong and fresh rubs there this year, as well as a lot of other sign indicating heavy traffic through the area. My stand was placed to watch that spot where the hedgerow opened up into the prairie and the rubs were thick. I was looking east, so the winter sun would rise in front of me and a little to the right.
I had been in the stand for long enough to have cooled down completely. I had rattled and grunted a few times, but had not heard anything that made me think that anyone was interested. Then, out of nowhere, I heard a twig snap in the woods 30 yard to my right.
The dance between Venus and the Moon first became visible to me at the horizon as the first hints of dawn began to warm the eastern sky. By that time, I had been sitting in my tree-stand for long enough to feel the cold in my toes, and the site of Venus and the Moon helped me to feel some added warmth begin to move from my soul into my body. I had begun my morning well before dawn, letting Colin out for a quick constitutional, and putting him back in the camper for the morning. After slipping into my hunting clothes outside of the camper, I picked up my bow from its special place, and began the slow and silent walk toward my stand. It was less than a mile to walk to my stand, but in the deep darkness of a night with no moon up yet, and with my desire to move silently, the walk probably took 45 minutes or so.
There is a path that I follow to that tree-stand when it is dark. It isn’t the most direct route, but it is the most quiet. The soil is sandy, and it is possible to pick out the lighter sandy path from the darker prairie grass even on the darkest of nights. As I had moved along the path – walking slowly and quietly – I enjoyed the absolute stillness that is so magical about that time of the day. The path follows an old tree-row for most of the way, and I could hear small movements within the tree row – sometimes a leaf falling through the branches, sometimes a tiny twig beneath the foot of a raccoon.
I rarely use a light in the darkness. An artificial light in the wilderness just screams to the wildlife that a human is present. If I used a light, by the time that I arrived at my hunting spot, every animal within half a mile would be notified of my exact location. In addition, the light from the flashlight would prevent my eyes from adjusting to the darkness, so that when I eventually did turn the light off, my eyes would need to take the time to adjust before they were of any use at all to me. In case of emergency, I have a light that I can use, but I don’t recall the last time that I used it when moving through the nighttime wilderness.
There is a greater reason, though, that I don’t want a light at night. It has to do with why I am even here – why I am walking across the prairie on a chilly morning, carrying a bow, walking softly and quietly. It has to do with why I take such care to control the human scent that is part of me, why I choose to spend this time with solitude on the Prairie.
Many people equate “hunting” with “killing something”. Most non-hunters do this I think, but frankly, I know hunters who do this as well. For me, it is certainly likely that the hunting process will result in meat in my freezer, but this is not why I hunt, and the “killing” is not where I find my joy.
For me, the hunting process is my surrender to my rightful place in this earthly ecos. It is about becoming part of a balance that is much older and much wiser than the technically advanced, climate controlled, risk reduced world that generally surrounds me. It is about coming into a harmony with where I have been placed in this universe, and from that place of more perfect Harmony, I can feel myself more completely within The One.
When done well, hunting finds me leaving behind all that is human reason, and finding deep within myself the wisdom that is a part of the little sphere of earth that I place myself within. It finds me accepting my place as a predator high on the food chain, and accepting as well the responsibility that comes with that place on the food chain. It finds me spending the time to learn how the other animals move in this little sphere of earth, and how many they are, and how healthy they are. It finds me choosing which animal to take, and whether to take an animal. It finds me realizing that when meat ends up in my freezer, it should end up there as a result of a gift that is exchanged between hunter and hunted, and that taking the meat without receiving the gift and blessing the exchange is a blasphemy.
Surrender – a funny word. Sometimes the path to strength and wisdom can only be found through surrender. In surrendering myself to my small place in this little sphere, and in leaving my human ego back at the doorstep of the civilization that I left behind, I am able to find my Self and my Place. And it feels good and right.
And a flashlight disturbs that goodness and that rightness.
The vastness of the prairie sky at night creates the window into The Infinite with which few people feel comfortable. The stillness required to allow that Infinite to creep into your soul is something with which even fewer people feel comfortable. While we profess to want closeness and connection with G-d, we eschew the very things that could facilitate what we say we want. It seems to me that this is a result of our modern world. I want to believe that when cultures are more comfortable with the magic in the world around them, that they feel more at ease with the Vastness and the Stillness.
This morning, I watched Venus dance with the Moon. It is a monthly dance, occurring in the early morning or early evening hours when Venus happens to be out, and the cycle of the Moon happens to put him somewhere close to Venus. It is a timeless dance – Venus and the Moon.
This morning, Venus and the Moon brushed close to one-another as they took their spin on the celestial dance-floor. I watched them as I sat in a tree-stand before dawn, and watched as the morning light washed the darkness from the night sky. For a while, they were framed perfectly in the cradle of the Cottonwoods above me – smiling at each other as they enjoyed the moment that passed between them…
Few things in the universe can be as vast as a clear night sky flowing without end, spilling over the distant horizons of the western Kansas prairie. The depth of the universe, and your insignificance within it, become starkly clear in the endless sea of stars – stars so thick that they almost feel oppressive. Intellectually, we all know that the universe is a pretty big thing, and that our place within it is pretty small, but resting in the cool autumn prairie evening gives you a window into that universe that you just can’t find anywhere else.
At least I haven’t found anyplace else where that window opens itself. As often as I have been on the prairie and felt that window, it still takes my breath away each time that it happens. It feels as though my soul is reaching and digging for some new set of senses – something bigger than sight and sound and smell and touch – with which to connect through this vast window that opens up out there where the sky is big.
Tonight is going to be that sort of a night – a night that The Universe pours itself into my soul through the window of a vast Kansas sky. It isn’t yet dark, but I can feel the window opening around me. The still November air is unseasonably warm at around 50 degrees. Sitting in an open field, resting my back against an ancient wooden fencepost, I find myself listening again for the Voice of The Infinite spoken in the language of the prairie evening as she begins to whisper.
On my lap, my old dog Colin rests his head, sleeping soundly. It has been an afternoon spent in heaven for him, trotting across the prairie looking for birds to point and fetch. We ended up with 3 quail out of 2 coveys, and they will make both breakfast in the morning, and dinner later tonight if I feel like fixing it. His age is showing, as he sleeps deeply after the workout. But then, I suppose that my age shows just as clearly, though in ways that I am not ready to see yet.
Earlier this afternoon, when Colin and I finished our hunting, we stopped by the camper to put the birds in the cooler, and leave the shotgun behind. We walked out to this spot with a nice view of the sunset, and sat quietly as the day began that quiet transformation – watching the day recede while night approaches through evening.
There are whitetail deer now in the prairie and alfalfa around me. They have moved out of their daytime shelters, and have begun to feed. I watched a group of them standing still at the edge of the field – that place where the shelter of a group of trees meets the prairie. They watched there for a while – assuring themselves that there was not danger in the meadow beyond – then one doe stepped out into the field, took several steps, and started to feed. The rest of the group stayed in the cover of the trees and watched, to see if anything took interest in the lone doe feeding in the field. Once convinced that danger was not near, they all moved out into the field, and began to make their way across the prairie grass toward the stand of sweet alfalfa that they love so much.
Such is the way of that daily transformation of day into night. Things happen slowly, and around the edges, one step at a time. If you aren’t paying attention, you can miss those dainty steps that are occurring in that movement from the shelter of daylight into the meadow of the night. If you aren’t paying attention, you look around, and realize that it is almost dark.
One minute you see an open field, then the next it seems that the deer have appeared out of no-place. One minute it is light and comfortable, then next it is nearly dark, and you feel fearful and uneasy at the transformation that occurred while you were not paying attention.