I’d love to go hunting again. It’s been years, now. Decades since I took to the woods with my gun and for so long I have never given it a thought. Life was crowded and not in a bad way. But now, alone and circumscribed by the limitations that have crept in on me, I look through my window at the winter sky and remember the days of strength and freedom and comradery.
The land I hunted had been in my family for three generations and I knew it with an intimacy and depth of a first and enduring love. I have loved deeply since and been blessed with every blessing common to man, but little remains so vivid in my memory and heart as the paths and ridges of those ninety acres. I knew the springs hidden beneath pine thickets on hillsides, encircled by moss and ferns that remained green even beneath the snow. The icy, clear water that trickled into tiny branches that in turn joined the creek at the bottom of the hill. The long pools in the creek and the red-gilled minnows there.
In those first days Dad would have breakfast on the stove before anyone else was awake. He’d come into my room and wake me with his hand on my shoulder and say “Come on, let’s get going.” I would have laid out my heavy underwear and jeans and boots on the chair by my bed and be dressed in a moment, feeling privileged and thrilled.
Dad loved to talk to me and usually took every opportunity to teach or to discover what was going on in my young life then. But on hunting mornings we were quiet in the house and silent as we walked up the meadow to enter the woods, our breath visible in the cold air. I thought then that the hush was to keep from waking the family and to avoid scaring the game we hunted but now it seems that it must have been inspired by a sense of the sacred.
In later days I’d go with my friends. There were only a few that I trusted to let on our land with a gun. I grew up with those boys and knew them in a way that you never know anyone else all your life. We’d plan the night before and they’d leave their guns and boots in our mudroom off the kitchen.
I did not think of it at the time, but hunting demands much: strength of body and steadiness of mind and nerve, and it requires the freedom of open land. All of that is gone from me now. My land is gone; my friends are all gone; and I can no longer walk long in rough country.
I still have my guns somewhere in the attic but I cannot bring myself to take them down again. Not long ago I opened an old trunk in my basement and saw the baseball glove my dad had given me on my fifteenth birthday. For the rest of the day I fought back tears.