I recently finished reading Harrison's memoir "Off To The Side". Out of the many brilliant writings in this book, one paragraph particularly resonated with me:
"After a long time sitting on the log, perhaps an hour, my mind emptied out into the landscape and my preoccupations with...other problems leaked away. In the stillness garter snakes emerged to feed on the flies that buzzed close to the ground among dead leaves and burgeoning greenery. Birds came very close because I had been so still in my lumpish reveries I had ceased to exist to the birds, and gradually to myself. I had become nature, and the brain that fueled my various torments had decided to take a rest by leaving my body and existing playfully on the landscape. The air became warmer and moister, so much so that it seemed densely palpable, swollen enough touch. It did not so much begin to rain as the air quite suddenly became full of water. Given the circumstances the rain could not help but be a baptism. The natural world would always be there to save me from suffocating in my human problems."
When my friend, Amber, sent me this story, I couldn't help but draw the comparison. I think now, more than ever, we could all use a moment. We could all use that special touch of the natural world to save us from the suffocation of our human problems.
Leaves rustle to the right as the last few minutes of shooting light approach. I roll my eyes, knowing it’s too dark to see what just came into shooting range with the naked eye. The .450 rests quietly against the pine tree. I reach across for it, making every noise possible - the rubber sling getting caught on a twig and lifting up every pine needle and leaf surrounding it, the fabric of my jacket scraping against the bark as I turn, and resting the gun a little too hard on my knee after raising it up. I find the dark blob in my scope, and the deer is facing me around 80 yards, ears up and very alert.
After four hours of sitting, you’d think seeing that deer would be the highlight of the hunt. That is far from the truth.
For a moment, my eyes only see rolling hills covered with towering pine trees that give a beautiful contrast against the bluebird sky. They only see the sun peeking through the boughs that periodically hit the tree trunks making it look like the soft glow of a fire. They only see a distant branch that looks like a whitetail buck causing my heart rate to spike. What they don’t see is the glow of a computer screen or television. They don’t see a highway filled with tail lights heading to the hustle and bustle of the city. They don’t see people that have been taught to panic and live in fear.
For a moment, my nose only smells fresh dirt from pulling away the bed of pine needles and leaves for a quiet spot to sit. It only smells the inside of my fleece buff that hasn’t been washed all hunting season. It only smells the damp oak leaves packed on the forest floor and that distinct aroma of a wood stove that comes from nearby dwellings burning wood to heat their barns or homes. It doesn’t smell the exhaust fumes on busy city streets. It doesn’t smell the musty office building. It doesn’t smell food cooking in the kitchen at 5:30 PM - reminding me of the monotony of everyday life.
For a moment, my ears hear that annoying rustle of leaves that can only be made by a fox squirrel, tricking you into thinking it’s the biggest buck of your life walking into your shooting lane. They hear a doe bleat can that sounds like a dying goat being put to use by another hunter a couple ridges over - maybe he’s here for the same reason as me though. Instead of getting frustrated, I smile. They hear the deafening silence of the evening as the sun sets and the breeze dies down to nothing. They don’t hear the radio playing in the kitchen/office for eight hours and fingers typing on a keyboard. They don’t hear the chatter of people in the grocery store or the news stories that make me cringe.
For a moment, I feel at peace. I feel my head rest on my pack for a quick minute as the sun kisses my face before prime time hits. I feel my toes going numb even with 2,000 grams of insulation as Raynaud's disease takes effect. Even though I can feel the chill of the evening come through my clothes, I feel my body relax. I feel the thermals start to drop as the sun descends. I feel my nose being turned on like a faucet, dripping into the fleece buff that needs a good washing. What I don’t feel for a moment is anxiety. I don’t feel trapped. I don’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel the buzzing of a cell phone because, thankfully, there’s no service out here. I don’t feel like I’m only existing.
For a moment, my mind slows down. It stops overanalyzing every situation. It stops worrying and wondering. It stops reflecting on the good, the bad and the ugly throughout my life. It focuses on what’s in front of me right now - what I can see, smell, hear and feel.
For a moment, I’m in the moment.
I let down my gun as it gets too dark to see, even through the scope. The deer nervously walks away, then I hear bounding. I can only assume that damn white flag is up too. I pack up and wait, giving the other hunter time to do one last scan at last light and enjoy the final moments of the evening - alone and without me intruding on their quiet walk back. My heart sinks as I make my way off the ridge, knowing my four hours of therapy is over. I savor the walk back to the truck. As I come out of the woods and make my way across a field, I stop and look back. The last light of the day in the western sky contrasts with the sparse clouds and treeline.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes, enjoying one last moment.