This morning in Vermont it is more like winter and not so spring-like. The sun greeted us and some clear sky, but the temperature is a cold 12 degrees Fahrenheit. I have cleaned up the snowfall from Monday night, almost of foot of wet snow – glad I got my tractor back from John Deere as this makes the clean up an easy chore.
For some unexplained reason this thought popped into my head this morning. I am remembering being a young boy and sitting on a deer stand in the woods with my father on some November morning that looked and felt a lot like this morning. I remember noticing that contrary to what you would expect, but I remember it got colder and the wind picked up with sunrise. We had walked in to our stand in the dark and waited for the day to break, me hoping it would get warmer than it was before dawn.
My father taught me to be aware of my surroundings and to try and become part of the natural world. He taught me to be still, quiet, and observe – and to think about what I was seeing. He would say, look for piece of motion and movement, look for horizontal lines that seem out of place in the woods. I mean, in the woods, almost everything is vertical, but deer and other wildlife are not. When I first started going with him and I was more of a companion, and not a hunter, I would rummage in the leaves for beechnuts and sit there making a racket and also enjoying the beechnuts. I know we saw fewer deer then, but sometimes the noise I made was not as much out of place, as it was the same noise the deer made when they were rummaging for beechnuts. My father shared with me that as a boy, his family would go out in the fall and gather beechnuts to store down cellar and use over the winter. I thought about this and wondered about a different time and a different way of life. We did not gather beechnuts in my childhood, although we did pick apples from the old orchards at the farm and my grandmother stored them in her cellar. The apples found their way into many pies over the winter and I always marveled at how well they kept over the winter. You could always go down in her cellar and find an apple that was just as good as it was the previous October.
Getting back to my story, I learned to notice and be aware of the world around me sitting in the woods on those cold November days. I watched animals start their day and go about whatever they needed to do to survive. I learned how to be non intrusive in this environment. I have many tales of animals coming right up to me, almost close enough to reach out and touch. I can see these memories in my mind like I am watching little motion pictures. I have always told my students to make movies in their heads of what they see and read – it is easier to learn this way, and more fun too.
I tried to continue hunting after my father passed, but it just was not the same. I admit to shooting a few deer in my lifetime, and there was a time when this was important to me, but not any more.
My last day in the woods as a hunter I watched a doe and two yearlings approach me. The doe must have picked up my scent, as she stopped about 30 yards from me and snorted a few times. The yearlings, a young buck and a young doe, kept coming until they were about ten feet from me. They were very curious and studied me for a bit, and then decided I was not dangerous. They continued browsing and looking for food on the forest floor. The young buck was legal, he had the antlers of a young deer, but his live weight would not be 100 lbs.
There was a time when I would have taken this young buck, but I had no interest in doing this on that morning. You see, I had been having a debate in my head about my hunting for a long time, really from before my father died. I did not need this deer to feed my family so I could not justify taking its life. I thought the only reason for taking this deer is some perverse pleasure I might get from killing it. I thought, if that is the case, stop, get out of the woods now. You should not be here in the woods.
Finally, after enjoying these yearlings, I literally shooed them away and they ran back to their mother. The doe gathering them in and walked off. Soon they were out of sight.
They had been gone for about five minutes when I heard a shot from the direction they had gone to. I knew what had happened. I picked up my back pack and said to myself, “That’s it. You are done with hunting. ” I have never been since.
I do have some wonderful memories of being in the woods with my dad. He taught me so much during those times, not just about the natural world, but about being a good person. I will always remember one deer he shot, and then him saying, “Why did I do this? We were having such a good time and this ends it.”
The woods and the natural environment are a wonderful place. I am so glad I had those times to learn about being aware of your surroundings, paying attention, and having the pleasure of lots of quiet thinking time. Those are the movies I play back in my head now. I have a library of film in my head just waiting to be spooled up again and played for me to enjoy.
Ed Pirie – West Topsham, Vermont