I have yet to find a good explanation for why the month of January exists. Everyone is on edge. Deer season is over, cold weather has set in, and our esteemed state legislators that seem hell-bent on taking away more rights and increasing restrictions are back on the job. It sure would be nice if they had the opposite goal. Seriously, who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “What burdensome law can I come up with today?” And why does it have to be cold?! AND WHY DID DEER SEASON HAVE TO END?!?!?!
Forgive me for the outburst. It’s been rough around here lately. Oliver has become proficient at exceeding the fill capacity of his diapers, and I’ve been cursed with a severe case of writer’s block. Some of you have breathed a sigh of relief at that, but I’ve become more frustrated with each passing day. So frustrated, in fact, that I have considered taking up ice fishing. That’s how bad it’s become.
One January evening I sat down to write a summary of my hunts from last year, but nothing came out. I just stared at pictures from the season and longed to be taken back to the moment just before pulling the trigger. Not too far before, though, because opening day in Vermont was frigid. I almost went home early! The horror of what I’d have missed out on had I gone home has kept me from sleeping many nights.
His dandy little eight-point rack is on the floor by my feet as I type. I keep looking down at it wondering if the tines have grown. They haven’t. I put a tape to it and rough scored it at 98”. Darn near broke the 100” mark in Vermont. Sigh. Maybe next year I’ll have better luck.
I’m kidding! I’m thrilled with him! Geez, everyone is so on edge this time of year. When hunting the back hills of Vermont, I’d much rather shoot a deer over 200 pounds instead of fretting over how much the antlers measure. What I’m looking forward to next is learning how old he was. I submitted a tooth to be aged and should get the results back in a month or two.
Remember how I mentioned writer’s block? Everything above this paragraph I wrote in January. Now it’s February, which is the second worst month of the year. I’m ornerier than ever after the Patriots defense forgot to show up to play in the Super Bowl. I’m lucky my TV is still in one piece and I didn’t blow a gasket while trying to contain my yells for fear of waking up Oliver. He has a tendency to get a little ornery too if he’s woken up in the middle of the night.
That reminds me of how I felt after I thought I’d blown it on my first deer of the year – a fine four pointer whose smallish rack looked larger than it should have because of how it appeared on his puny body. I’ve heard of guys that spend thousands of dollars on trophy hunts in areas of the continent where the bucks grow enormous bodies. Consequently, a shooter buck’s antlers can present smaller than they really are because the bodies are so big, causing many a fine hunter to underestimate the amount of bone on a buck’s head and mistakenly pass up a harvest opportunity. My experience was the opposite of those guys and I would have shot the four pointer anyway regardless of how much he weighed, so I am not entirely sure why I just wrote that. When you have writer’s block you type whatever comes to mind.
My snow blower broke a few weeks ago. Diagnosing the problem was simple. The wooden hammer handle my son left in the driveway the evening before it snowed was discreetly buried in my path, and as I chugged along I heard a mighty clunk followed by a stoppage of blowing snow. It wasn’t until I steered the blower into the porch light that I found a new appreciation for snow blowers that don’t have a hammer handle stuck in their auger.
What I failed to do that night was test out the blower after removing the handle, probably because I was finished blowing and they design those things so it’s very difficult to peer into their mouths and engage the auger at the same time. I wonder why that is? You have to kind balance on one foot while using the other foot to press the lever, all the while hanging onto the blower and leaning over the front of it to see what’s happening…or not happening. There must be an easier way.
So, I’m down a few shear pins, or three. I’d have known this before last night had it snowed at least once in the past three weeks. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. That bring backs fond memories of that time I anchored a spike horn last fall thanks to hindsight. Those were better times, back before my snow blower was converted into a plow by a careless six year old boy. That boy and I were perched high in a ladder stand and the young buck had become alerted to our presence immediately after I made a noise that alerted him to our presence. I launched an arrow at him only to see him drop at the sound of the release and watch my arrow sail just over his back. I should have been able to predict that reaction since he was so alert, but that’s hindsight for you.
But fate smiled upon us that day and the alert young buck came back for seconds. This time I planned for his drop and used a pin for a lesser yardage. He dropped right into it at the release and Sam and I had harvested our first deer together! We had been trying for two seasons to see a deer while hunting and it all came together that night. Hopefully my snow blower comes back together, and hammer handles aren’t randomly left in the driveway again.
I shot another four pointer in Vermont with my muzzleloader at the end of the season. I almost let him go, but the branding opportunity for my blog was too great to pass up. I can’t be shooting eight pointers all the time, or any new readers will be utterly confused. A little more meat in the freezer is nice to have and he has represented his species well on the stove top. Last night I was playing the role of Mr. Mom while my wife was at work and Sam and I cooked up venison for dinner. It was all we had. No sides or anything. He was lucky to get a glass of water with it, but he was completely satisfied with a bowl of meat and so was I.
That deer will always mean something a little more to me than the others. Normally when my dad or I drag a deer home, it gets hung up in the shed at my parent’s house and we convene later to process it. This deer was different. My mom wasn’t feeling well so instead of invading her kitchen for an evening I cut it up by myself at home over the next week. It wasn’t a big deal and I enjoyed myself while I picked away at the various chunks of meat, wrapping and labeling them for a time when Sam and I could cook them together on the stove top.
As the weeks passed my mother still wasn’t getting better. How strange it is to one day celebrate another harvest with your dad and then what feels like the next minute to be playing cribbage with him in a hospital waiting room to pass the time until the doctor emerges to report just how sick my mom is. It’s been a month and a half since I put the last package of meat in the freezer from that buck, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve finished processing it yet.
When Steph and I lost Cora, I couldn’t wait to get into the woods to be alone for a while. I remember finally sitting down in my stand and not caring if a saw a deer at all, my head leaned back on the tree with a tear making its way down my cheek. There is something about the stillness of the woods that allows a guy to work through life’s difficulties, as long as the homeowner across the valley doesn’t decide to come home and mow his lawn until dark. Man, I hate that. It really takes away from the moment.
There is a Bible verse that keeps creeping into my mind as of late. It’s found in Psalm 46:10 and it starts with the words, “Be still.” It’s not meant to be hunting advice, though I have said that exact phrase to Sam close to three million times since I first started taking him hunting a few years ago. It’s a reminder of the importance to stop your mind from spinning – to sit still and think. To process. But process what? That life has been too heavy recently? That work is crazy? That I feel like I’ve been ornery and come up short in a lot of areas of life lately? That my mom is sick?
No, it’s not any of those things. The answer is found in the very next words, “and KNOW that I am God.” It’s a simple statement that can be difficult to fully grasp at times, especially when life isn’t easy or doesn’t seem fair. But it brings me hope that when the future feels uncertain my hope is in the One who controls it. It’s a statement that brings me peace when I take the opportunity to be still and dwell on it.
This writer’s block is the real deal. I have never experienced such an extended stretch of mind numbness despite what people might say. Hopefully it will pass soon, and I can find the time to write a summary of my season last fall. I like to have a record of what each season entailed, plus writing has a way of helping me process life when I can’t find the time to get into the woods and be still.
You know what comes after February? That’s right, March! The third worst month of the year! After that, things will start to improve. Warmer weather will work its way our direction and the gobbles of frustrated turkeys will echo across fields and through wooded hillsides. Keep the faith, the end of winter is on the horizon.
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