There is urgency in the air, while the world slumbers. The sun is rapidly approaching the horizon line. My eyes flash open, tipped off by an alarm clock and without a thought to flicker. Predetermined getup is taken on. A hastily prepared bite is consumed laboriously in dim kitchen lighting. Sharp cold and the aroma of coffee sting my nose as I push through the door outside. The hot liquid pours down my throat and warms my body.
The truck is preloaded and grumbles to a reluctant start. Cab lights make the world darker, but can’t fight sunrise. It’s on its way. I’ll beat it to the clover field. Dutifully, I throw the vehicle into gear and head out into the world yet-to-stir.
White pine crowns, silhouetted by a growing gray haze in the sky, guide my approach. Feet crunch on the stubble of a recently hayed field. I’m an intruder in the world, under cover of darkness, hoping to make my stand before the first whitetail makes the short amble from bedding thicket to field edge.
Stakes are highest as I creep carefully to the back corner of the clover field, and enter the woods via a whole in the brambles I’ve previously cleared. I find my blind how I left it, though its weathered a few days and become a part of the landscape—no longer an item of distrust for the local wildlife community. I unfold a small stool, settle my bow in my lap, and begin my vigil over the awakening world.
Darkness turns to gray and gray to white. The temperature drops noticeably a few degrees with the peeking of the sun over the horizon, as the day laborer turns a defiant shoulder to their alarm clock. It’s deafening, the calm.
In this moment, this moment of raw possibility and wonder, I come down from my cloud. As these days clog my spiritual pursuits with schoolwork, conducted hours away from the woods I know, scouting is an activity necessarily, though unwillingly, scrapped from my process. Will I get lucky? My hunting effort is not premeditated. There are no likelihoods.
But more importantly, there is tradition.
Whether on opening day or some equally as nominal first bout with deer season, there is the remembering of hunts passed, and the nostalgic rediscovery of the sights, smells, and emotions that came with them. There is the physical admission of inclusion within the food web, and an intention to remain.
There is anticipation of hunts to come, of skills to learn and classical ambition to please. There is a legacy of adventure and grit, a lifestyle perceived as nothing more than necessary habit.
There is a home in the mountains, and the farm that goes with it. There are autumn days when working outside is comfortable and the willing slavery to a livelihood of passion is reflected upon with a rose-colored lens. There is thankfulness.
In the wide-eyed world of chirping woods and sugar gums crashing under the weight of a spunky bushytail there is the profundity of morning and a renewed chance at living. There is the ritual of coffee and prayer, and two dogs in the front yard, going through the same motions, but with unrestrained lopes and wind-whipping ears.
There is a squirrel hunt like I used to, and the preparation of the harvest and the resultant tie to the land. There are two kids to help, filled with questions and burgeoning passion for the world.
There are first hunts that remind me of my own. And in that there is heritage, and the scrappy morning hunts of my youth to refuel the tradition.
And in it all, there is comfort.□
*Originally published in The Rural Virginian