Thursday, July 30, 2015

In The Wild

A night in the forest by Randi Hausken from Bærum, Norway Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (Source)
One day, long ago, I went hunting in the woods near my home. In those days there were fewer people in the place where I lived. The forest began behind my father's house and stretched up and over the road atop the hill, with its scattered farm houses, then spread out to the west.

I would walk up into those woods and turn to the south. There the wood stretched uninterrupted for miles, patches of open ground were many, especially where the great power lines marched from wherever they originated to wherever they ended. I didn't care. Though they were a blight upon the land, electricity and heat were much appreciated when the cold winds brought the snow and ice.

I walked a long ways, I was startled by a covey of quail when they burst from cover just in front of me. I had to laugh at how jumpy I was in that moment. I was not two miles from home but I felt as if I was the only human in that land.

I came across a large field near the top of the hill. We played there as boys, I skirted along the tree line. It was at that moment that I realized that I wasn't really hunting. I was out in the forest in the middle of November. The last leaves of autumn were long gone, there was a chill in the air from the remnants of the snow fall received two days earlier.

I sat and listened. The wind sighed through the trees, small creatures went about their business in the low brush, rustling and scurrying about, my presence long forgotten in their busy wee brains. They had winter to prepare for. The burrows must be stocked for the long sleep. Layers of fat must be put on, provender will be scarce for the next few months as ice claims the land.

After a while, I notice the shadows are getting longer. I have tarried too long, it is time to retrace my steps. I am not afraid, I have a powerful rifle in my hand and I am young, in my mind I am invincible. No harm can befall me, this is my forest.

As I enter the deep wood which lies between me and the hearth where my mother prepares dinner, I notice behind me that the fields are barely lit. Details are beginning to fade as the sun hides its face beyond the hills to the west.

The forest is silent at first. The only sound comes from my footsteps as I carefully tread through the tall pines, the wind is moaning in the tree tops which I can just make out by the starlight overhead.

To my front I can just discern the dim glow of the streetlight near my home. I still have a ways to go. And it is dark and the forest seems to be awakening, almost as if it is disturbed by this being who walks its halls in daylight, but who is out of place as the night deepens.

An owl hoots in the distance. I remember a story told by my grandfather how bears will also hoot, just like an owl only deeper in tone. I pause, I finger the safety on my rifle. The sound doesn't come again. There are bears in these woods, my father has seen one, I have seen their scat way up on the hill.

Still, that must have been an owl. I think.

The forest seems alive with sound now, a dripping noise as the wind picks up causing the pines to shed the little snow left on their boughs. The noise is almost deafening and I can barely see my feet on the forest floor. But I have my guiding light up ahead.

It seems brighter and I quicken my pace. I can smell the smoke from a neighbor's fireplace. I am almost home.

I break out from the forest on the bank just behind our house. I can see my mother in the kitchen window, supper isn't far off.

I look back over my shoulder into the deep dark beneath the trees. It seems so lonely and alien after the sun goes down. But I know these woods. They were the playground of my brothers and I and our friends. They hold no fear for me.

Still and all, it's nice to be back in the warm kitchen. My mother chastises me for being soaked. Seems there was a lot more snow falling out of those trees than I realized.

I go upstairs to change and wash my hands.

Turning off the light in the bathroom, I open the blinds and then the window itself. Looking up at the woods, I sigh. It was a good walk, one I will remember until the day I die. I am getting older, soon I must leave this place and go out into the world. When will I see this forest again?

I did not know it at the time, but it would be eight years before I walked there again. That time was with my wife, my young son waited at home with his grandmother. I showed my wife the deer, four of them passed near us amongst the pine. The wind was in our faces, they didn't notice us, we simply watched them glide silently through the wood, like so many brown ghosts.

Those were my woods. Now they are someone else's. Though my brother bought the land immediately behind the house so no one could build there, others did, further down the street. What once was a stand of pines is now a street, with houses.

It has now been over twenty years since I walked those woods. I doubt I will ever walk them again. That time is past.

Time marches on. But what lives in memory can never be destroyed. It may fade but will remain as long as I take the memory out from time to time and think on it. Cherish it.

Sometimes I share those memories with others.

This is one of those times.

It was pleasant sharing this memory with you.

I hope you have a forest, a field, some mountain perhaps where you once wandered free and without care.

Go there sometimes in your mind.

You won't regret it.

Peace.

14 comments:

  1. Des expériences similaires, sans arbres. Vous et votre famille êtes dans mes pensées et nos prières ami.

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  2. There were woods, and a stream, and a peaceful little valley served only by a dirt road ... now it's all houses & pavement. Dang it.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean Rev.

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    2. Up in the Texas panhandle, we have playa lakes. Runoff puddles from heavy rain that can be acres in size. Usually left as layout land, they're gathering places for wildlife. I used to shoulder dad's Wingmaster and hike out across the sections when I got antsy. Very few trees to speak of and lots of plowed fields with a playa at the center. If you could find a dirt bank to snug up against, the sun would warm you as the north wind blew over you. The sun was low on the southern horizon in winter, but it would keep you warm out of the wind. Most of all, I miss the solitude of the plains. You can see horizon to horizon of stars out there. Nothing to get in the way. Just the sound of the wind, and the tumbleweeds rolling by.

      Lots of houses out there now. Dirty yards, derelict cars, cheap mobile homes right next to the caliche roads..... Time hasn't been kind to the county at all.....

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    3. Raised in Big Spring. I'd climb to the top of the Mesa behind our house and just sit there and look out over the Llano Estacado, armed with my trusty Daisy BB Gun. I'd watch Thunderstorms build hundreds of miles away. As Night started falling, I could see the lights from Lubbock or Midland and Odessa as if they were right next door. I used to call that "See 'em coming" views, and still do.
      I can actually feel my blood pressure drop when I head west on I-10 and exit the hill country at Junction as the road climbs up on to the Edwards Plateau. I have a currency requirement to experience that at least once a month, just because.

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    4. STxAR - there's a good memory right there. My first time on the Great Plains freaked me out just a bit. Those wide open spaces were a tad overwhelming for a lad raised in the hills and forests of Vermont. After a while I got used to the elbow room. Sometimes I miss it.

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    5. Juvat - every time I hear the phrase "Llano Estacado" I think of Lonesome Dove which is, in my estimation, some of the best TV I've ever seen.

      Junction, Texas brought up an old memory. I passed through there twice back in 1987 on the way to San Antonio from Colorado and then back again. The second time I stopped due to being in need of sustenance. Found a BBQ place. Ate lunch, gave serious consideration to just staying there and living in the parking lot. Just for the brisket and the other great stuff they were cooking. First taste of Texas-style BBQ. Great stuff.

      The need for the wide open spaces is very real. I get that from being on the sea. I need to be out of sight of land every now and again.

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    6. OldAFSarge, when I went to Longview, TX the first time, I got claustrophobic! You could only see a strip of sky along the road. Back in Lubbock, I could see the storms far enough off that I could time when to roll the car windows up. In Longview, suddenly I was wet and didn't know why!!! Very weird.

      Juvat, give me a shout someday, and we'll go get a Chester's burger. My treat! I miss talking to folks who grew up waving at every other driver on the road.

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    7. Northern Louisiana made me a little claustrophobic. They have too many trees!

      That thin strip of sky above the highway, everything is trees, with the occasional farm field. Pretty close quarters.

      Rolling over Lake Pontchartrain is more to my liking.

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  3. From age five to thirteen lived in a series of small whistle stops (max population 40) along the Denver &Rio Grande right of way. Every day I was out and about with my dogs exploring. Wild country for the most part.

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    1. I pity the folks who grow up in cities.

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  4. This post brings back a lot of memories. It's been 45 years since I tread the woods and fields where I grew up catching minnows, salamanders and crayfish in the little streams. Looking for pheasant nests in the spring to count the eggs. Going out every Saturday during the season to hunt the pheasants and looking forward to coming home from church on Sunday for a big roast pheasant dinner. Picking buckets of wild blackberries with my dad and sister for my mom to make jelly. The fields and forest are long gone as are mom and dad, but the memories still haven't faded. I can still see them as if it was yesterday. Thanks for reminding me.

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