The sun has yet to rise, seemingly reluctant to interrupt the darkness. The trees recede into the shadows as I move past them with my flashlight. I stop randomly to break up my movement and catch my breath. I recall my scoutmaster saying we should "be overly prepared." Wait—that was "always be prepared."
I am 15 years old, on my first solo deer hunt. Last night, my father walked me up the path, showing me how to get to my deer stand. Little did I realize how different the hike would be on my own at 4 in the morning.
Up the hill I trudge, a backpack and a tree climber on my back and my gun slung over my shoulder. The woods are deadly silent. Images of goblins and ghouls jump through my head.Hurdle out of here, I think. But now is not the time. I shake my head and tell myself it's too late to turn back toward the truck.
The steep slope gradually flattens. Finally, I reach the crest. I rub my chest, take a deep breath and a swig of water, then mosey on toward my tree.
Quietly, I drop my things onto the ground, wipe my brow, hook my deer stand around the 40-inch waist of the tree trunk, and begin my ascent. About 10 feet up, I have reached as high as my shaking knees will take me. This is my domain. From here, I rule as far as the eye can see—about 40 yards around, except behind the tree. Don't look down, I remind myself. Don't look down. Here, I am king.
A deep, piercing hoot echoes above and startles me. Unknowingly, I've chosen an occupied tree. From a hole high up in the trunk, the bulging yellow eyes of a tiger with wings are staring at me. Like a ghost, the great horned owl takes flight, not making a sound as its powerful wings propel it through the darkness.
Finally, the sun begins to rise. Beautiful pink, yellow, red, and blue hues dance on the horizon. The dark relinquishes its hold on the world and vanishes.
With the sun, the constituents of the forest—my unknowing subjects—rise. A gray squirrel runs down the hillside, searching for nuts it may or may not have lost. It jumps around as if in a one-person play, chattering to itself.
A flock of Canada geese flies overhead, the birds honking to one another. One goose leads the way, flying … north … in mid-November?
A woodpecker drills a hole in a tree. The telling, familiar sounds reverberate through the woods, tattling on the bird's location and giving me a headache as I watch its head hammer back and forth.
A white-tailed buck walks down the trail toward my tree. He pauses to nibble on greens here and there. With snorts and grunts, he calls for a mate. He passes underneath my tree and continues on his way.
Wait—a deer just passed me and I didn't even raise my gun! What was I thinking?
I stand up and point my gun in the direction of the deer. But he is long gone, probably chuckling as he strolls on in my domain—his domain—a place where squirrels put on performances, owls are a hoot, and deer roam looking for relationships.
Oh, dear—how do I explain this to my dad?