It took about two hours of sitting in my deer stand opening morning of the firearms season to put me back in time with nature.
It's a bit uncomfortable, when you're not used to it, to sit absolutely still and alone for a few hours. The rest of the year is pretty hectic by comparison. We live in a "go" world - so much happens at such high speed!
Like many others, I've grown used to the fast pace. It's even gotten to the point where I'm frustrated when I'm forced to slow down. The most bothersome thing on the highway, for example, is a traffic jam. And I'll grump a bit if the plane I'm in encounters headwinds and arrives 15 minutes late.
It may seem odd, then, that I would leave my comfortable bed at 5 a.m., drive to a farm in Miller County, park my truck in a field, shoulder a small pack and my rifle and use a flashlight to follow a trail of reflective twist ties to my treestand. All of this just so I can sit alone in the woods for about four hours.
Not much happens in a Missouri forest during a fall morning. Squirrels are often active early, scratching and rustling through the dead leaves on the ground. A chickadee may perch nearby to investigate the bright-colored bulk that has installed itself in its bailiwick.
That's about all that happens. It's rare to see a rabbit or a weasel, a mink or a turkey. Once in a great while I'll spot a raccoon or a coyote. Deer are rare, too - at least where I hunt. In a good season, I'll have one or, possibly, two chances to take one.
The experience wouldn't make a good footage for a television nature show. I like watching those shows. I get to look animals I've never seen before smack in the eye. I can count whiskers on a lion's face while munching popcorn in my recliner. No wonder surveys show that many people list watching nature-based television programs as their favorite outdoor activity.
Those nature shows are dramatic and exciting, but they have as little to do with nature as a shoot-'em-up action movie has to do with the way you live your life and I live mine.
Nature doesn't allow anyone to edit out her slow parts. When I'm sitting in a treestand, I have to accept the relentless tediousness pace of where I am. I can't fast-forward a deer toward me. I can't flip channels to watch another animal. A natural speed limit is strictly enforced in the woods. The only way I could break it would be to get up and leave.
When I started writing this, I meant to explain how therapeutic it is to slow down, how keeping alert but patient builds character, how much better it is to be outdoors than indoors. These are great benefits of hunting, surely, but I doubt that I'm putting up with boredom, discomfort and inconvenience just to heal my psyche.
Something beyond self-help is working here. I'm not chasing a trophy, because I don't count them. The meat is nice, but not necessary. It's more fatiguing than fun, and, while I can't deny the challenge, I know that whether I see a deer or not depends as much on luck as on skill.
I want to be out in the woods during hunting season, though. It's extremely important to me to be willing and ready to take a deer if one comes along.
Maybe the explanation must ultimately be more magical than logical. Perhaps I just have a hunter's heart. If you have one, too, then at the end of the season, you'll feel blessed if you take a deer, and equally blessed if you never see one.
Tom Cwynar, editor