I may wax poetic about grouse hunting, but when it comes to deer season, I have to admit, I don’t quite get the allure. It seems like a lot of blaze orange, a lot of camouflage, and a lot of sitting very still in not very warm weather. And I just haven’t heard great things about the general tastiness of venison.
Still, when I moved in with Andy, it was pretty clear that deer hunting was what you do in November and I thought, okay, fine, I can deal with that. After all, deer season only stretches across three weekends. What I didn’t count on was the amount of deer reconnaissance that goes into the weeks leading up to the opener. I didn’t know you devoted time every evening in late autumn to going on “deer drives.” I didn’t even know what a deer rub was.
This deer season pre-work seems to start when the shadows start growing long. To my displeasure, deer scouting is often dovetailed with grouse hunting expeditions. While grouse hunting mostly entails wandering down established woodland roads and paths, deer scouting seems to be more along the lines of finding the youngest, thickest patch of aspen trees and attempting to crash through the forest in a straight line while supple dogwood branches bend back and smack you across the face while you simultaneously plunge your entire foot into an unexpected puddle of cold standing water.
I realize I’m pretty wimpy for having spent basically my entire life in northeastern Minnesota. And my tolerance for bushwhacking is pretty low. When it becomes clear that all the stomping through the woods, which often results in me becoming lodged sideways in the crooks of a pussywillow, is done to find the elusive scrape on the ground or tree rubbed free of bark, which indicates male deer activity, things start to feel futile.
Maybe it was more fun before the blowdown happened and there weren’t so many trees to pick your way over. Maybe it was more fun before the forest fires, when there weren’t so many pokey trees or as much charcoal to wipe off your pant legs. And no matter how you spin it, you can’t convince me that setting up a deer stand in the middle of the woods is just like setting up a tree fort.
Needless to say, I get a little cranky about the whole “let’s go look for the deer” attitude that picks up momentum in the middle of October and continues right up to the evening before deer opener.
And yet . . .
My getting snarky every time we started following a deer trail in the woods this fall and ended up in the middle of nowhere really just wasn’t helping matters. Then one bright golden afternoon, when we parked the truck and set off to follow a deer trail over the granite outcroppings, through the river, and among the young jack pine forest, I remembered something a theater teacher had told me a long time ago: that if you focus your senses on a particular thing, your awareness of that thing will become increasingly pronounced.
All I’d really ever focused my senses on during similar ventures was how much I wanted deer scouting to be over. So I thought maybe I could expand that focus a little bit. Sure enough, when I stopped thinking “when is this going to be over”, I started to feel the weak late afternoon sunshine on my face. I heard chickadees and grey jays chirping and squawking in the trees. A squirrel chattered in the distance and a chipmunk scampered across the granite outcropping we stood on. With the wind whispering past my ear, and just the occasional rumble of a car passing on the far-off road to interrupt the noises of the natural world, I realized just how still and quiet the world we live in becomes in the late autumn. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all, if we hadn’t been out deer scouting.
Of course on the way back to the truck, my jacket got tangled in a balsam tree, I didn’t quite manage to jump across a small stream and at least three branches whipped me in the face. But with my senses focused on the larger world around me, it hardly seemed to matter.
Airdate: November 10, 2010