For three months every year I endure a Lenten style abstinence from hunting and archery, not by choice but by the necessity of financial security. You see, my primary occupation this time of year is that of a tax accountant and with it, working long hours, seven days a week, from January through April. My primary hobby passion, however, is hunting - which means I disdain the IRS for more than just the one reason that most people do. This year I have had to turn down several late winter hunts because of work, and I have yet to even go shed hunting. Endurance is a skill we hunters learn early if we are to enjoy the success of harvest. And, we tax accountants have our own brand of endurance as well. To be totally focused, dead accurate, and productive for such interminable lengths of time, requires a dedication and a mindset that sends most accounting interns right out of the profession and after one season.
The same goes for many neophyte hunters, who realize their first several times in the woods, that hunting is not as easy as some people think. It is truly a Mind Game. Oh, there are those who enjoy beginner's luck, but for the most part, real hunting is hard work and often is an adventure of mind over matter. We hunters endure interminable sitting times in our tree stands. We endure heat, freezing weather, rain and snow, wind and humidity, mosquitoes and black flies, wet feet, sweaty underwear, bloodied shins, torn rotators, snotty noses, sore muscles, unpredictable quarries and squinty eyed criticism from those who do not hunt. We also endure 4am alarm clock buzzers and sustained sleep deprivation in pursuit of our sports. Enduring these things are ultimately fun for us however, an enigma most of us hunters are wont to explain to anyone who does not share our unique addiction. Enduring my three-month hunting fast every year is a whole different ballgame however. The cry of my soul is so great by April, that my first trips into the woods might best be described as Epiphanies. I run, I dance, I walk, I wonder, I sit and I gel with my precious woods. Until then, I am relegated to my special brand of Mind Games here in the city.
Mind Games are the next best thing to being there, at least for me. I once heard a quote that said, "The imaginings of a creative person are more enjoyable than the realities of a dull one". I am pretty creative, and I must say, I do have a lot of fun with my imagination. There are three venues where my Mind Games are at their best. One is when I am working out at the gym. Another is while driving in my truck, and a third is just lying in bed either when I wake in the morning, or at night before falling asleep. Once in a rare while, the view out my office window will take me away to the woods for a few moments, but the ringing phone or other interruption invariably pops the bubble. Mind Games have their downside however. Once, as I ended a cardio workout with ten-pound free weight reps, I imagined I was using my chainsaw in the woods in summer, cutting trees, hoisting logs, and stacking wood. Somehow three sets of ten reps turned into one two hundred reps, and I pulled a deltoid muscle. It was worth it. Another time I was driving my truck to an appointment and I started thinking about the locations of all my tree stands and where I was going to move them next year for bear and deer hunting. I got to my appointment quite late after missing not one, but several freeway exits as my brain went on autopilot and I found myself a third of the way to my hunting shack.
I wrote the following upon awakening about four years ago:
As I drift from sleep...my nose is cold. I like that feeling. The cold air around me, heavy with the smell of early spring earth, dead grass and leaves, is a stark contrast to the warm cocoon of my bed. I am in the woods, with the beating of a bird wing, the call of a crow, the minute peep of a nuthatch, the scolding of a red squirrel. The silence of dawn becomes an explosion of wildlife noises in the morning feeding cycle. Oh how my soul yearns to be in the woods. To break into a robust hiking gait, through clear cuts and hardwoods, through dead leaves and tag alder swamps, over rises and windfalls . The vigor of erecting my deer stand, how good the muscles feel climbing, straining and hanging on...the sweat on my bandana. To then sit there all alone for many minutes when finished, close my eyes and listen to the wildlife, to smell the dead grass and leaves. My nose gets cold... I like that feeling.
The wind rushing through mature pines becomes the City's din through the open window of my room, and the shadows of being in a duck blind last Fall become the geese bickering noisily on the pond behind our house.
Another day, closer to doing what I would rather be doing.
The daydreams of a hunter are the only respite we have sometimes. I imagine the icy sun coming up through stark winter trees while late season archery deer hunting. I remember trembling at full draw but deciding not to take a shot - and the ensuing hot flush as adrenalin exploded, leaving me wobbly kneed. I can see the tiny nuthatch land first on my arrow, and then three inches from my face hanging upside down - as the awestruck child in me marveled at having a wild bird so near. I imagine standing in thick swamp perimeter buck brush and listening to a wave of a summer wind toss the crowns of popple trees. I recall taking a rest break sitting on my ATV in the spring sunshine after two hours of tilling a food plot - I can almost smell fresh earth. I imagine the drainage swale on my land that becomes a tumbling stream each spring after the snowmelt. I can see the fallen red maple leaves that form a brilliant mosaic on the forest floor in mid-October. I recall the many hunts with various friends last year, and years ago: the campfires, the stories, the deer drags, the frozen toes and missed shots.
Perhaps if I was able to hunt 12 months a year, I might not appreciate it as much as I do now. Perhaps someday I will get the chance to find out. Meanwhile, amidst the tyranny of the urgent and the frantic pace of everyday existence, there exists a place in my imagination where whitetails can be stalked, and where I can almost smell the gunpowder from my shotgun after swinging on a gaggle of incoming ducks. Where I can hunt every day and rest by the fire in the evening. Where the chords of my guitar blend with the sounds of the woods at dusk to create a symphony unmatched by the artificial reality of everyday life.