The big buck raked the low limbs, velvet still hanging from his hardened horns. A light dust, creating a momentary haze, blurred the distinct path for my arrow flight. From my stand he was 29 yards, and I’d been watching him for over half an hour rake trees and browse. Occasionally, a doe slipped through the clearing and then off into the thicket where a flick of the tail was the only remaining sign of her presence. Another flick, a flash of white, and then she was gone. And the buck continued on, raking the shrubs, munching on acorns and elevating my heart’s beat to an alarming rate. Finally, after what seemed like eons, he stepped into the shooting path and I lifted by bow to draw. Except nothing happened. My arms turned to rubber and the funny feeling of an extremity without blood caused my brain to panic. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t draw back my bow. The buck looked up at me, and, I swear to God, began laughing.
And then I woke up; my body tense and sweating under the blankets. Darkness surrounded the house. My watch said 5:01, so I rolled off the couch and ambled out the front door to relieve myself under the morning’s stars. The dream had been all too real, yet it was something I could not touch. It should have been a vehicle to drive me out into the fading night and up a tree. Yet it didn’t. The wind was out of the south—a bad wind for the stand where the dream had taken me. And it was warm. Too warm. Still seventy degrees before dawn in late September.
Any flame that existed moments earlier had smoldered to ashes. Lyle snored softly from the other couch until his obnoxious alarm awoke even the chickens. I was making coffee, getting ready to continue James Michener’s Hawaii when he began eyeing me suspiciously.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “It’s after five, we don’t have time to waste.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Wind’s no good, too warm out. Think I’ll just sit on the front porch, drink my coffee, read my book, watch the sunrise.”
“Your excuses aside, it’s opening morning!”
I piddled around a bit more, placing dirty plates from the previous evening’s supper into the dishwasher. I could still feel Lyle’s eyes on my back when I turned to meet his stare.
“Look, I’m just not in the mood,” I said. “I know we’ve spent plenty of hours hanging stands, shooting our bows and getting ready, but if it doesn’t suit me to do so, I’m not going to go sit in a stand just to be there.”
“Alright.” And he shuffled out the door.
I watched the four-wheeler’s tail lights disappear down the hill from the rocking chair on the front porch. I felt good about my decision to stay. The coffee tasted black and strong and the sky pushed a grapefruit-colored hue up between the horizon and the clouds. Still too dark to read without turning on the porch light, I sat in the semi-darkness letting the warm southern wind push me back toward sleep. I couldn’t tell you where I went or what I was doing, but a sudden flash and rumble caused me to jolt. Hot coffee splashed from my cup and onto the ground, barely missing my feet and the book, which must have fallen in the same instant. Immediately, I thought a storm had unexpectedly rolled in and a deluge was under way. The brain thinks many thoughts in an instant until a slow reality comes crawling back. That reality was Lyle.
The flash was the four-wheeler’s headlights and the rumble its engine. He eased up beside the porch, killed the motor and hopped off, taking a seat in the rocker beside me. He must have assumed I’d chastise him for coming back, faltering in his argument that opening morning, or any morning for that matter, means you have to get up and go.
Sometimes the simplest inclination, a gut feeling, is best acted upon. Had I gone to sit stand, I would have undoubtedly regretted my decision rather quickly. I wasn’t ready for the confinement, the limited movement and every other aspect that goes with deer hunting. I will be, and when that time comes I’ll be hard to get a hold of; just not at the moment.
The dawn turned to day before Lyle spoke. “Auburn has a big game today,” he said. “I reckon we ought to start getting ready pretty soon. I guess for now that’s the only game I care about too.”
“They do indeed,” I agreed. “Might ought to get some more beer.”
Images courtesy Josh Wolfe