In firs

We are tracking a herd of deer we suspect are young bucks. When you see an actual young buck there is something so majestic and beautiful about it that there is at least a moment’s hesitation while you consider whether you can take its life or not. But we stalk it anyway hoping that when the moment comes, the need for venison will outweigh the perfect asymmetry of the curving antlers, the smoothness of the coat, and the serene and knowing eyes that it looks at you with. Up the hill we trudge, moving so slowly that it is physically painful….stepping carefully so as not to cause a sound, pausing only in the shelter of spindly oak trees with our bows tucked against our bodies. I watch my feet crush the tall wet grass, padding my toes down first to dampen the noise of my footsteps. My legs burning with protest at each slow step, desperately trying to steady and slow my breathing, I follow him up the hill side. My fingers ache with cold so I carefully switch the hand holding my bow, flexing the frozen appendages, willing them to move, to get the blood flowing. Every now and again we kneel to study a fresh print, two perfect tear drops pressed into the doughy earth. We follow the trail of leaning grass and freshly disturbed dew, the telltale sign of a recent visitor. A reverberating thump on the ground, followed by a huffing grunt, tells us that he has discovered us. It feels like being revealed at hide and seek and makes the creature even more omniscient and mysterious. I can’t even see him but he knows what we are up to. Through the clouds of our frozen breath, John motions to me to stop, then points to a stand of small fir trees—a stately congregation of them forming a perfect circle, a rare occurrence of order among the mossy, whimsical oak trees. We move to them quickly and soundlessly, staying low to the ground to avoid being seen over the tall grass. As I pushed back a fragrant bough, the warmth coming from within the trees kissed my face. The earthy smell of the pines and moss was a welcoming embrace after our cold morning march. Taking off our packs we sink to the ground to wait, hoping our quarry will doubt his nose or forget the uninvited presence he scented moments before. The grass is warm as I settle into it and the fir I lean against is a welcome embrace. We watch for movement from our grove of trees but there is none. The forest hunkers down on days like these when it is too cold to move without the ground crunching beneath you. Besides the groves of firs are warm and inviting and it’s so easy to fall asleep, lulled by the frozen quiet of the forest.

 

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