A freezer full of venison brings both anticipation anticipation of fine eating and reflections on the hours spent sitting in a quiet, wet forest.
It's amazing how quickly humans adapt to the woods. Sitting perfectly still for hours on end can drive a smoker half-mad; but tobacco odor means ranch-raised steaks instead of venison; withdrawal is part of the price.
After a while you notice even the tiniest movements of chickadee or squirrel. A spider smaller than a tick weaves its tiny web two dozen feet away. Nearby country roads resound with earsplitting noise from everyday commuter traffic that had gone unnoticed before.
Thoughts turn to fellow hunters scattered over hundreds of acres of densely treed land. Will they score while you go home empty-handed?Will you be gracious enough to enjoy their success? One friend, in particular, you hope does well; his luck has been on a slide.
Then there are the children.
A 13-year-old told to sit still on his stand for three hours comes stomping through your area five minutes after daybreak. It's a comfort, then, to remember that someone, somewhere, loves the boy; and that one day he will suffer such attentions from someone else's son.
A thoughtful father would start his children hunting where chatter and fidgets don't matter much: rabbits, pheasants, quail, waterfowl from blinds. Deer-hunting is so subtle, slow and silent that few grown men master it; it's unfair and fruitless to demand such discipline of a youngster.
My father put up with much from me and my brother. We made no end of mistakes, but his pride and patience let us keep learning as we went along. He didn't let us hunt deer until our late teens -- out of concern for us, for fellow hunters -- and especially for the deer.
But back to the more recent past in the woods, where, across a narrow draw near a pine thicket, a life-and-death struggle was taking place between a redbird and a Coopers hawk. The hawk won, of course.
Don't ask me what a mouse likes about wet, soggy bottomland, but there she was, flitting about from grassy isle to grassy isle. There are beavers, too, in our woods: large and magnificent and too busy rearranging the creek system to notice a hunter atop a stand.
In the distance, on another farm, I heard men driving deer, shouting "Ho, deer, here, deer... Get up deer..." Sure. When drivers advertise themselves that way, the whitetails stand and allow the humans to walk inches away. Somebody's son had already stomped on my hopes this morning, so there was a certain satisfaction in hearing other hunters spoil their own chances.
And how bad can it be to lose a game in which the deer win?