Hunters often reminiscence about their seat in the woods. Of simply sitting. Listening. Watching. Waiting. Of how that seat in the woods often supersedes the hunt, even the killing itself.
While driving through the “half and half” Bonanza area of Big Stone State Park, with the wooded half in near full autumn glory even after a leaf-devastating wind blew through earlier in the week, I pulled over, grabbed my camera and sneaked into the woods. Moment before I had noticed a car at the boat landing near the park entrance, and later, peering through the trees a skittish herd of deer seemed uneasy. Quickly I had sped ahead to where a spring dabbles fresh, cool clear water down a rivulet where you can often see deer. Hoof-worn trails meandered through the area. With luck, those walking on the distant trail might push the herd toward the adjacent rise and the rivulet. At least, this was my thinking. My hope.
Lowering myself to the ground, I leaned back against one of the beautiful mature burr oaks that grace this lakeside savanna. This was in the wooded half. Across the gravel road dissecting the park is the prairie half, a wide hillside thick with prairie grasses with ravines likewise graced with stately oaks. Rebecca introduced me to Bonanza our first winter together, on a night when a full moon edged over the crest of the hill. As she drove I suddenly asked for her to stop, before jumping out of the car onto the snow packed road to take my first of several hundred photographs in the park.
Since moving to our nearby farm, the park is almost like my private “estate.” Rarely does a week go by when I’m not driving slowly through Bonanza at least two or three times with my camera. Like on this afternoon. Now I was here as a hunter … a photographic hunter. My seat in the woods was filled with more than anticipation. Yes, I was alert for a sudden showing of the does, for it seems the grand entrance of the antler adorned buck happens long after the nearly grown fawns, does and yearlings have entered an area. Patience is as important as stealth.
Fortunately it was warm enough that my hoodie was enough to maintain a decent level of comfort. Initially you become aware that you are the intruder, and you are surrounded by a shyness of nature. If not shyness, then at least caution. Not even the birds show themselves as an eerie quietness envelopes you. By maintaining a sense of calm and motionless, eventually there will be a distant rustling. Then a flash of feather. In time the birds begin to resume perhaps a more normal routine. Those blurs between branches come ever closer. Eventually I was able to capture a quick photo of one peeking toward me partially hidden on a perch behind a patch of leaves. When I called up the image to enlarge it digitally, I realized it was a robin. Really? A robin? In the deep woods? In mid-October? But, yes, a robin. Then came the flash of a nuthatch. Others I couldn’t identify.
Moments later came my first squirrel sighting. Much like the robin, the squirrel stopped halfway down a tree on a broken limb and surveyed the intruder at length, starring at the stranger like old gentlemen do when someone from out of town walks into a small town cafe. As that intruder, and stranger, I remained as motionless as possible until I seemingly passed the test. Gradually the woods came back to life … at least to a life as I imagined it had I not been there. Which can only be a guess. How would one know? Yet, it had taken nearly an hour before the acceptance of my intrusion was granted.
Interesting thoughts come to mind when you take a seat in the quiet woods. Earlier in the morning my new friend, Lee Kanten, and I had shared lunch. Although we’ve known one another less than a year, it seems we can share good, soul-satisfying conversation. Over the years I’ve had few male friends. Many co-workers, teammates, friendly and caring sources and fishing buddies, yet so very few you have comfort in opening up with. My writer friend, Tom Cherveny, is one. Another is now Lee. As I eased into my seat in the woods, ever hopeful of seeing the first of the herd step into my amphitheater, I rehashed our conversations, our thoughts of our individual retirements, and of others we’ve known over the years. I’m finding comfort by settling in to this rural, prairie-based lifestyle with diminishing desires for travel. His views, too, have changed due to some of his recent travels. He has less desire to park a trailer next to dozens of other retirees in a patch of sandy desert, nor to hop-scotch across the country parking overnight in WalMart parking lots, nor even to socialize with people we wouldn’t have at any other time in our respective lives, while devising a schedule of forced social activity just to feel busy and alive.
“We are now at an age where we have come to grips with our immortality,” he had said. “We now know we’re mortal, that our time is limited, and we begin to make decisions on how to best make use of the time we have left.”
Here in my seat in the woods I feel both busy and alive, of making good use of such time.
Thinking of this budding friendship made me recall an earlier conversation with Rebecca, of when she mentioned the trip she’s taking this weekend to visit an old friend who is about to go in for testing at Mayo Clinic. When Rebecca brought up the trip, and of going alone, I was a bit taken back. She then expressed the need and importance of having special and separate friends, and the need and freedom to spend time with them. Perhaps equally important, for getting off the farm for breaks now and then, especially after the long and tedious growing and canning season for her, and my intense preparations for the recent Arts Meander. There in my seat in the woods the realization and weight of what she had said made more sense. Part of that realization came earlier during my lunch with Lee. Yes, you do need to spend quality time with friends, and yes, you do need to get away the farm for breaks. As much as we enjoy our togetherness, we each need our freedom as individuals. In part, this is how we grow, and how a relationship can mature.
There in my seat in the woods I found myself taking occasional deep sighs, and feeling certain weights ease from my shoulders. A few clouds drifted in the blue sky as the sun shimmered through the colorful canopy of leaves. A lowering sun. Shadows had lengthened, and one from a distant tree now crossed my outstretched legs. Time had eased by, easily and perhaps too quickly. It was time to go, leaving behind the mashed grasses and leaves of my seat in the woods.