Hunting Tips

Traci said, "Let me have a look at your leg?"

Naomi said, "What's wrong with daddy's leg?"

I said, "I just checked it. It looks fine."

Naomi said, "What's wrong with your leg?"

Traci said, "It looks about the same as it did yesterday."

Naomi said, "Looks the same as what?"

I said, "It doesn't hurt or anything."

Naomi turned to Blaisey and said, "What did daddy do to his leg?"

Blaisey said, "I think he got a bug stuck in it."

This was the day after I came back to Athens -- I'd stayed in PA after Thanksgiving while the rest of the family returned to Ohio. I spent an extra four days out in the woods, during which time I often recalled a quote I'd read from, I think, a professional athlete of some sort, "I have been hunting on several occasions, but no deer were ever aware of it." That registers with me on every level.

Well, I think there's only actually one level.

I spent four days in the woods with my dad, and I only saw one deer, and that is largely the story of my hunting life. It was raining so hard the night before the first day of the season that we had a brief conference about when to wake up. Like many hunters, of course, we would like to have been in the woods unreasonably early but Dad suggested that we might want to sleep in for a bit, because if it's going to rain this hard, it's going to be hard to see even after sunrise. Mom said, "Yeah, with all this rain, it's not going to get light until long after it stops being dark," which is exactly what I had been thinking.

It rained all the first day and all the second day. I've never seen so many mosquitoes during the last week of November. I marked sunrise at about 4:14 both afternoons. Still, it was lovely in the woods and I got in some very long walks.

In the evening, after each hunt, we'd stop back in the clubhouse and make plans for the coming day and the rest of our lives. Though I'd only seen one tick in Pennsylvania in my entire life, some of the hunters claimed that this year they were particularly bad. So each evening, like it or not, we all shared some tick repellent. The stuff came in the little steel cannister that my great uncle used to carry his snakebite medicine in. It tasted remarkably like some of the darker whiskey one might find on the middle shelf of a local spirits shop. If the family legend is true, Great Uncle always had his snakebite medicine on him, and, if times got real tough, he'd even carry a snake.

Wednesday, the temperature dropped, and I found myself sitting in a tree stand, sitting in an enormous snowglobe about thirty feet up in the air, the wind bringing confetti-style flakes at me from all angles. I had brought Leaves of Grass with me, but couldn't take my eyes off the world. It was my first time in the woods in earnest since fall 2002, and I'd forgotten the woods, forgotten how cold an ass can get, forgotten how quiet a place can be, how calm.

Okay, I should mention this: there's these two guys out in the woods, father and son, hunting deer. They walk for a while and cross paths. The father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Found some scat, but it tasted pretty old." They split up again and meet up in a few hours. Father says, "See anything?" Son says, "More scat. It tasted pretty fresh, but I think it was from a doe." Few hours later, the father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Some scat. It tasted real close." The father says, "You know you could just smell the scat." Son says, "Are you kidding me? That stuff smells awful."
It's the first deer-hunting joke I ever made up. Loosely based on a true story. How'd I do?

Here's the true story: Dad said, "You see anything?" I said, "I don't know, does a bear shit where it eats?" He said, "I believe so." I said, "Well, then I saw a bear den."

Late into the third day, the weather broke. The sun came out. I got out of my stand. Dad and I went across the valley to climb a different hillside. Late in the day, the sunlight came horizontal over the hillside we were just on. The hillside lit up like a candlabrum. I started thinking there are no deer in these woods, which is what I believed through most of the hunting seasons of my childhood. Nor did I need to see any deer just then. The gray clatter of tree tops in a bright light breeze would have kept me in the woods for a millenium.

Still, the week before Thanksgiving, we had taken Jaswinder for his first trip through Pennsylvania. He spent two nights at the ancestral Connor household, staying up way too late, chatting with me and Dad. Dad asked him, at one point, "So what do you think of Pennsylvania?" He said, "It's exactly like Chicago, except hilly." (Years before when Dad had asked me what I thought of my first trip to Chicago, I'd said, "It's exactly like February, only it's September.") I'm still not sure what I meant.

We'd been passing through PA on our way to New Jersey to take part in a Barrow Street reading hosted by Derek Pollard in a pub next door to Derek's house -- now that's planning. The reading featured Derek Henderson, Lesley Wheeler, Jaswinder, and this guy. What a beautiful event, space, gathering. I was fantastic. Every body read from one or more of their books, except for one guy whose press had folded months before and had nothing to read but the list of 101 things about himself from his blog.

Jaswinder, or, as the kids call him, Uncle Winder, had never been across PA, and was fascinated by our landscape. Driving along I-80 heading east, he said, "What's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "I dunno. Another hill."

"Well, I wanna see it."

I told him we'd take a different route home and see what's on the other side of the hill.

On the way back, travelling along I-76 West, he said, "Well, now I wanna see what's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "We already saw the other side of that hill."

He said, "Yeah, but not today."

I thought about Winder as I stood there in the woods, about how it's never enough, never warm enough, never snowy enough, never rainy or dry enough, because I often do wonder what's on the other side of any given hill, wonder what's on a different radio station, what I would have eaten at a different restaurant or what I would be doing if I had finished that engineering degree. But that day in the woods, I didn't feel the need to know those things. I was happy to be tired from walking up and down steep hills, pushing aside brush and climbing over logs, pursuing little other than exactly what I was doing.

Suddenly, a bear jumped out of a brush pile right in front of me! Awesome. It clambered around up the hillside, making an awful racket. I've been away from the woods for too long . . . should I have said something to it? asked it to keep quiet? maybe cleared my throat, ahem, and showed the bear how to be reverent, silent in the woods? But I just stayed quiet and watched it climb the hillside, some times running, some times swatting tree branches just, I think, for the hell of it.

The fourth day was mostly a half day. Bright again, all day, and we walked the hillsides and didn't see much wildlife. In the evening I drove back to Athens. When I got home, we discovered, to my dismay, I had not taken enough of the tick repellent. A lesson to us all, I suppose. Be sure to drink your tick repellent, or you might end up with a bug stuck in your leg.

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