Twelve days of vacation; I needed it more than I knew. And it was glorious. I had no real agenda. There were no exotic travel plans. My greatest desire during my scheduled time off was to spend as many hours as possible sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to wander past. If my view was good and my aim was true, I would come home with meat for my freezer and a story to tell my family. Fully decked out in camouflage, I had my bow, warm gloves and a great hiding place. I was ready.
However, I suspect the deer were on to me. They spread the news. They sounded the alert. And much to my Bambi-loving friends’ delight, I didn’t see one deer during my entire vacation. I didn’t see one in the woods, or beside the road driving back and forth, or near my neighborhood, or even in my dreams. So, when people ask if I went hunting, I have to respond that I am anything but a hunter. I’m just a guy who enjoys looking at trees and nature…and I’m okay with that.
In truth, while unsuccessful at the hunt, the experience was unparalleled in it’s impact on my heart and my soul.
Each morning I would leave my home at 5:15 and drive the hour-and-a-half to this fantastic piece of property that boasts deep woods, rolling prairie, cornfields, marsh and pond. I gathered my belongings from the car and stood in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the black. I would then hike into the woods, allowing at least forty-five minutes before daylight. Finding my spot on the bucket next to the tree, I would prepare my space, set my bow, hang my pack, and lean back against the strong Maple, ready to listen and wait.
One morning, in the darkness of those woods, I enjoyed Barred Owls calling their familiar “who-cooks-for-you” as it mixed with the Eastern Screech Owls calling back and forth. Finally, with the brusqueness of an old uncle and as if to tell them all to quiet down, the Great Horned Owl made his presence known. The woods once again became quiet.
The light rising over the Randolph County farmland illuminated a rainbow of colors on rain-dappled leaves and dew covered grasses. It reflected beautifully off the small, lily-covered pond, as steam rose gracefully off the surface and into the chilled morning air. The breezes blowing over the cornfields and up the hill created a song, a chorus of sound; a rustle of dry corn, the clicking of limbs high overhead, the rhythmic drum of the windmill as it turned in time with the wind. The birds flying from tree to tree, branch to branch entertained and dazzled with their aerial acrobatics and enthusiastic calls and songs. It was magical.
As the sun came up over the horizon, the rest of the woodland world came to life. Squirrels chased one another and investigated the forest floor. Two Pileated Woodpeckers called to one another and met in a grove of trees just forty yards from my position. They shifted up and down large Hickory and then flew off in a rage, only to return and repeat the performance. Canada Geese passed overhead in V-formations, honking furiously to one another as they prepare for their long flight to warmer climates. Chickadee, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Dove and Nuthatch dotted the landscape, searching for breakfast and making quite a show.
No, I didn’t see any deer. But in the end, I realized I didn’t need to. This vacation was a retreat for my soul. It heightened my senses. It awakened my spirit more than I could ever have imagined or hoped. Each day was a blessing and I’m so grateful for the time.