Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The world goes cold—not for lack of heat—as I step into the dwelling of a fellow being. The ground is familiar. The air is not.

    My intention changes the atmosphere. My boots tread a familiar course more tenderly than ever before. Solemnity resonates throughout my body.

    A silent tension is latent in the trees, not manifest but when playing by the rules of the arena. Under the lens of the present mood, it forms a viscous weight in the understory.

    It’s a primitive game, worlds removed from the calloused, disconnected existence that modern living affords—one that is best played with primal senses, determination, and pensiveness. And so perhaps it is suiting that such a journey begins solitary, long before the sun awakens and the dissembled world has a chance to impose.

    Thoughts run rampant as the morning progresses, lost in a daydream that becomes more real as the cool, pre-dawn moonlight trades places with the gray of morning. If the dream comes to fruition, I’ll be blessed by a rendezvous with a storied local. Gaze panning nervously, I slide down a shadowy, pine-covered ridge.

    Much like my own, my target’s early hours are ruled by tradition. Nestled against the sprawling roots of an uprooted oak in a dense creekbottom, his eyes drift open by the light of a late-to-rise moon.

    The mating season is coming; and soon the world will be an even harsher place. The air says so. Carb-loading on freshly fallen starches will be a rule of survival going forward. Gently, he stands from his bed, shaking dirt from dark hair.

    His mood is heavy, too. Seven years of hooves on this ground have instilled a caution for the season. For it’s when the gums and maples ignite and the call to mate courses like electricity through his body that humans set out to fulfill their own ritual. He runs his tongue over a dark nose, whetting a vital sense.

    Nose to the wind, antlers bobbing, the character deserts his bed for the comfort of a well-worn foot trail, weaving through young forest, following the creek downstream.

    At the base of the ridge, I encounter a familiar beaver field—timber flooded and drowned by a beaver pond that jumped its banks four springs before—repurposed as a thicket. Through the haze of morning, I fix my gaze on an opening in the treeline opposite me, where, if all goes to plan, I’ll catch the first glimpse of my quarry.   

    More light filters through the canopy and illuminates his trail. The undergrowth grows sparser nearing an opening facing the base of a tall ridge. Cautiously, he approaches, pauses, nose to the sky.

    An ivory crown, perched stately above a steely gaze, catches my attention and sends my heart rate flying. All else falls into an inaudible background. My grip tightens around the handle of a bow that previously seemed weightless. 

    White-rimmed ears swivel as the crown falls. Satisfied, the veteran resumes, perusing his domain, unaware of the felon in his presence. 

    A few steps further, and the whitetail buck’s tawny form emerges from a tangle of rose and stump, mere feet away. Fear and dread flicker in and out of my body, mixed with feigned composure. The weight thickens. My muscles tremble.

    His crown, a culmination of dominant wit and character, drops to the brushy ground, browsing. He’s blinded.

    Seizing my chance, I drive away fear and draw the nocked arrow back with a deep breath. It’s mechanical, practiced. Exhale.

    The weight increases, ever more.


    The animal dips, wheels, and sprints, frantically—body low to the ground, hooves falling over hooves. The world comes crashing back—the warmth, the color, the sounds, the smells.

    Elation fills my extremities, as the brown form bounds out of sight, and a mortal crash concludes chaos. Tension rattles my body uncontrollably as it escapes, returning to hide amongst the landscape within another predator, another prey.

     Shallow is my breathing as I lunge through matted tallgrass and drowned tree trunks towards the creek where I know my fellow to rest. My eyes fall on motionless coat and bone.

    The pain of death is a universal sting, felt by all who too know life. A trickle of doubt and self-loathing penetrate my mind. God speaks to me as it brings me to my knees.

    “This is what it means to live,” He says. For it, I am thankful.

    So begins the process of repayment—to the land, and to the spirit of my late companion. The weight I have come to know develops and lingers in a haze of reverence about my mind, but I find comfort in knowing, by some shrouded hint of heritage, that its burden is a manifestation of being truly, and utterly, human.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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