I needed to get into the woods. I still had a doe tag and spent the better part of the previous day at the hospital watching monitors wired to my Dad.
He had suffered a heart attack and our family sat impatiently on vinyl padded furniture waiting for some word on his fate. Never have I been more aware that hospitals are rarely in the business of offering good news, nor are they suitable places for collecting a person’s thoughts. While leaving the hospital after visiting him on his second day there, I decided I could use some space.
Nine forested acres at a friend’s property would do. A rare spell of balmy weather bathed the January woods in an amber light that dulled the winter chill. It felt like a late October hunt. A lone persimmon tree shooting up through a snare of briers downwind of a cedar thicket was where I’d make my stand. For a few moments climbing up that trunk, the world seemed normal. Focusing on the task at hand diverted my mind momentarily from thoughts of my Dad lying in a hospital bed. Twenty years prior he’d have been right there with me chasing whitetails with his bow. On this day, only memories of him were present.
Memories are no insignificant thing. Being in the outdoors, I couldn’t help but feel close to him. He’s the one who instilled in me a love of wild things, of water and wild places. Every squirrel that day reminded me of countless predawn mornings in our favorite oak stand sitting by his side with an old single shot 20 gauge clutched in my anxious hands.
Though twenty miles away from the hospital, I felt close to Dad.
Among the bramble and uphill of the drainage I was in, a glowing array of whiskers backlit by the sinking sun caught my eye. My heart dropped then began it’s usual deep thumping that only a deer in bow range can cause. Even as my mind swum in predatory adrenaline, a higher part of my brain recognized the irony that Dad’s heart would likely be incapable of handling this surge of energy.
A mature doe was browsing her way to me.
I silently struggled to pick a shooting lane through the dense foliage. As she continued toward me, I decided last minute to slide my HHA sight from 30 to 20 yards. It was the right call, as she slowly turned to me and began closing distance faster than before. I drew as her head passed behind a tree and picked a spot just south of her spine.
The arrow punched completely through her as she wheeled around into the same direction she came from, though after running twenty yards, she collapsed on the hillside. My doe tag was filled and so was my heart. I stood in the silence trembling and thanking God for both the deer, and the means to pursue it.
The next day in the hospital I stood by Dad’s bed and retold the story of the hunt, periodically glancing at his heart rate on the monitor. His tired heart was moved even by artifacts from the outdoors; my stories and pictures.
Tonight as I write this, I don’t know how many more heartbeats or sunrises Dad has. I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to tell him about a big buck I saw or how cold I got on a sit. There’s a lot I don’t know. I do know that we’ve always been drawn together by the outdoors, by wild places and wild things. They stir both of our souls and hearts so that in a very real way, with or without him, we’ll always be together when I’m in the field.