The leaves crunch beneath my feet as I navigate the trail with my headlamp. A flash of bright pink on a small tree gives me my bearings. There is only the sound of the wind and my light footsteps as I walk. The forest is completely silent, not a bird or chipmunk to be heard. My breath fogs my face as I walk, holding my gear so as not to startle any slumbering animals nearby. I see my tree and carefully climb, as delicately as I can with layer after layer on of clothing, until I get to the top and turn around to sit. It’s still dark, just the faintest light lets me know the sun will soon be on the rise.
I sit and I wait. I move my scarf up around my nose, I wiggle my fingers in my gloves, gently pump my toes up and down on the foot warmer tucked tightly in my boot.
I sit and wait as the sun slowly starts to climb. The horizon widens, embracing everything it touches with light. A scatter of noise lets me know the chipmunk is awake, the song of a bird is released, and the woodpecker starts his morning work on the tree next to me.
I sit and I wait, taking it all in as the sun starts to warm my body with its rays. The shimmering dew on the leaves and tall grass, the bright pink ribbon marking my way home, the distant sound of gunshots cascade out, boom after boom.
I am a wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor and woman – I am also a hunter. Like the generations before me, being in the woods is my passion and the very essence of my family. It is where I can feel immediately connected to my heavenly Father, where I feel the most peace, where I know I belong. A few years ago, at the age of 84, my grandparents had their last hunt at our rustic family hunting cabin. My grandpa passed away last summer and yet his presence is very much alive when we all gather together around a warm pot of soup and tell stories from our day in the woods. We play Slapjack, lay our clothes out to dry, and get the coffee ready to percolate the next morning before the sun is up. We reminisce about the early days when all of us cousins, mere babies, were learning the ropes of the forest. My parents, both my mom and dad, teaching me how to read a compass (and the sun) while hiking in the woods, how to properly stoke a fire, always find important landmarks on your journey, and always to be safe. Safety first. I have vivid memories of long drives with my uncle and cousins, whittling a walking stick with my grandpa, my brother helping me drag my deer out of the woods… And later, my sister and I there with swollen bellies and our future hunting babies tucked safely inside.
The hunting cabin is a sacred space for our family. It isn’t just about the hunt, although that is a huge part of the fun. We eat venison all year round in my family, and my kids thank God for the gift of being able to eat something we know has been grazing in the woods for its lifetime. The circle of life is a beautiful thing to appreciate and we certainly do. But the memories made there, the life skills taught, and the deep appreciation for being outside, surrounded by the beauty God has masterfully crafted, is what I most appreciate.
From the moment I park my car and hop on the 4-wheeler, making the long drive down to our little piece of Heaven, I am smiling. There are huge water holes to maneuver around, and rocks to avoid, but you’re on a wheeler and not in a car and there is great fun to be had. As I make my way closer to the cabin, I can see and smell woodsmoke – a welcome sense that immediately brings my heart comfort for the family waiting inside. I love that I know the two trumpeter swans will be on the lake and the bald eagle will swoop down over the water sometime during the weekend. I love everyone’s rosy red cheeks as we come in for lunch, taking layers off to warm up and dry off. I appreciate the warm lasagna my mom makes, or the blueberry pie she sneaks in (did I mention we have no electricity and only a propane tank and generator? The woman is amazing!).
Later that night, as the stories start to wind down and the playing cards are put away, I start to anticipate the way my head will fall on the pillow. Asleep in a matter of minutes after a full day outside in the fresh air, grateful for the early morning alarm to start another memorable hunt in the woods.
For further reading on gun safety in the house click here!