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Time, like a river, keeps on flowing. We can’t stop it or make more of it. It’s what we do with time that matters.
Like the ever-revolving seasons of the year, each of us is moving towards a penultimate end. But before that last heartbeat, a world of possibilities exists.
Each fall, I renew those possibilities with a rifle in hand, a backpack, and hope as I move silently through the forest in an age-old quest of finding food.
At 72, I move slower than I used to, but my patience is better. I take more care observing the small, discreet signs I rushed past before. A bent branch, half a hoof print, a tiny scrape, and a nibbled plant tell a story.
In fall, as I move silently through the woods or sit quietly in an area where I see a well-used game trail, my senses are alive. Just as daylight arrives, the air is crisp and smells of leaves fallen onto damp earth beginning to molder, soften, and decay, adding rich humus to the soil.
Resident birds greet the day, calling softly from tree and bush. Pine squirrels chatter, but don’t raise the alarm that every hunter hates to hear.
As the season progresses, mornings are colder with frost touching dead grass and dew beading my boots. I walk slowly, almost glacially, as I scan the woods before each cautious step.
There’s no reason to rush and cut short my time hunting. A few times I’ve killed deer or elk on opening morning, and, frankly, it robbed me of the hours and days I like spending on my own in the backcountry. Hunting is precious, a time I hold sacred, and I like the privacy and intimacy of wild country to bring meaning to my effort.
But time takes its toll, and it was brought home to me this fall as I sat around a campfire with old friends-all of us in our 70’s.
My friend Pat spoke softly, “I had an existential experience in August while bow hunting. I wondered if I was finally too old to hunt, especially on my own.”
He elaborated, telling us every younger person he ran into asked if he was “out here by yourself?” in a way that translated to, “what in the world are you thinking old man?” And, he admitted, for the first time, he looked into a steep timbered bowl and realized he didn’t have the strength to go in and possibly kill an elk that would have to be packed out on his back.
“Ironically,” he added, “later that day a younger guy walked by with a heavy meat pack from a bull he’d killed in that same bowl.”
His instincts as a hunter were still alive and well, but his body was sending out signals that things had changed.
The silence among the rest of us was ominous. Pat wasn’t the only one wondering when our time as hunters would come to an end. When we were young, we all delighted in heading into remote wilderness areas, joyful about the effort needed for a successful hunt under difficult conditions. But as the years have piled up, we’ve all scaled back our trips.
Instead of loading five mules with weeks of supplies, my husband and I are now happy to set up camp on the edge of wild country and make daily hunts of much shorter distances. The nimble, pain-free days of following an animal into steep canyons are past, so I’m much more aware of topography than I was when younger.
Every friend around that communal campfire related adaptations they’d made to hunting over the years. But nobody was ready to say their time hunting was over.
Although the drive to hunt has mellowed with the years, I still get great pleasure in the process of the hunt—the planning, applying for tags, the time in the woods, and the stories that come from chasing elk and deer. I’ve never relied on motors to get me to game, and I don’t intend to do that now.
When it becomes too difficult for me to walk the woods, I’ll pass my favorite rifle on to my granddaughter. But until then, I’ll relish the quiet intensity of hunting on foot, matching wits with animals who know the ground intimately.
I know the existential moment awaits me, but today I’ll shoulder my pack, carry my rifle, and enjoy the hunt for one more season. MSN