I am on my second gallon of coffee this morning. Well, I call it a gallon. My second full Yeti cup of coffee if that sounds better. Yesterday evening, I fell into my bed exhausted. Traveling really takes it out of me.
Driving used to never bother me. One of two things have happened. I’ve grown old, or the mileage on this body has piled up. There’s a meme that I relate to. It cycles through Facebook on a regular basis.
“It’s not the years, darling. It’s the mileage that gets you.”
Then, there’s the line from the movie Shooter, which is based on the Stephen Hunter book, Point of Impact.
“Mileage can be rough.”
As I sat in the airport parking lot yesterday, I thought about the nice weather we’ve had the past few weeks. The leaves on the trees are changing colors. Beautiful saffron leaves are on some trees. Fall has arrived. With its arrival also comes hunting and trapping season.
I leaned back in my seat and smiled. My mind took me back to the winter of my ninth birthday. My dad kept my brother and I in the woods during the summer. We scouted the land and put deer stands in the most promising places. I was a bookworm. Swatting at deer flies and mosquitoes was not on my list of things to do.
“Possum, shut your mouth, and follow me.”
My dad didn’t book no back talk from his sons, nor did he tolerate grumbling. He had a favored saying he would use when my brother and I would complain.
“A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.” If that didn’t shut us up, he would simply tell us to suck it up. A Vietnam veteran, he said little that had no impact or worth.
He allowed his example to do his talking for him.
We were crossing a stream via a wet log. Dad went first, followed by my brother. I was a clumsy lad in my younger years. I started across the log and made it halfway across when I fell into the stream.
My brother laughed, my dad….not so much.
He didn’t say anything, but his eyes conveyed his message. I didn’t shiver from the cold so much as the warning that flashed in his eyes. The look on his face made it clear that my foolishness was not appreciated.
Hunting was serious business. It was the only thing that kept us fed. My sin was not that I fell in the water, it was that I scared off the game that would fill our bellies.
We pressed onward. Hunger has a way of making you forget the cold and the wet clothes. I climbed into my deer stand. Our stands were between 25-30 feet in the air.
Dad and Mule headed deeper into the woods. The wind blew, and I swayed back and forth in the stand.
“Lord Jesus, please don’t let me die here. If I fall out of the tree let me die before I hit the ground.”
I had closed my eyes in prayer. Something I read once said that you closed your eyes when you were fearful, or you experienced something sweet. Kisses for example, were one of the things mentioned. You close your eyes and experience the tenderness of the moment with your emotions.
Or you closed your eyes to keep from seeing your impending doom. Either way, you experience the sweetness or terror with your emotions.
I tell you; my emotional state was quite fragile swaying back and forth like an airborne loon in that treetop. I opened my eyes. A deer stood not fifteen yards from me. I couldn’t believe it.
“Keep it together, Possum.”
I kept my eyes on the deer and pulled the weapon into my shoulder. My breath came in short, rapid bursts. I leaned up from the tree and hit an overhead limb.
The leaves rattled, and the deer looked up. I froze.
“Come on. Go back to eating.”
It did. I aimed at the deer and squeezed the trigger. The deer hit the ground. I leapt to my feet.
“I got him! Hey dad, I got him.”
I hooted and hollered like a madman. Somewhere in the deeper part of the woods, my dad was probably shaking his head. My fear of falling to my death was forgotten. Elation filled my being.
My kill was going to feed my family. I had accomplished my first responsibility. I took care of those I loved. My dad appeared in my peripheral vision. I nodded at him and climbed down out of the stand. We walked over to where the deer lay.
He didn’t say anything, he patted me on the back. I didn’t need his words, his eyes said everything I needed to hear. He took some of the deer’s blood and marked my face.
“Son, you never kill more than you can eat. This deer gave its life so that we can live. Always respect the natural order of things. If you take a deer, you let them repopulate and return to strength. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. We don’t take trophies, we take food.”
The sound of cars passing by caused me to open my eyes. The tenderness of the moment lifted from my mind, like soupy fog lifts from the waterway. I wiped at my eyes.
Mom’s plane had arrived. My phone dinged to let me know she was heading to the baggage claim. It’d been a month since I saw her last. I couldn’t wait to see her and hug her neck.
Good memories can save your life. I am blessed to have been raised by two great parents. Dad is no longer with us, but his memory lives on in us.
It doesn’t keep me from missing him though. However, memories such as this gives me the strength to keep pressing on. One day we’ll be together again, I just have to endure until the end.
Until that day comes, I will just close my eyes and smile.