a bedtime story

The adamant shrill tone of my alarm whittles its way into my dreams gradually and all at once. My eyes pop open and I groan silently at the time: 2:45 AM. This is what it takes to be a bow hunter: rising at ungodly hours to silently trudge out into the cold dark, unseen, unheard, and forgotten by the time the sun rises. If you are there in the dark, you can become invisible under the sun as you blend into the shadows of the trees, absorb the scent of the earth, and learn to move like a creature that gives no reason for fear. If you want to know what it is to be a wild thing, spend so many mornings doing this that there is no telling where you begin or end. I kick my legs over the edge of the bed and immediately recoil, hissing at the icy floor. Stumbling, I pull on my bulky boots. It always takes me a moment to adjust to their unwieldy clumsiness. I lurch heavily crossing the room, bracing through the foggy sleepiness clouding my thoughts and the bulk of my layers of clothing. I throw open the door. The light from my lantern flings into the forest in a flawless beam, pointing into the spindly oak trees and thick brush into which I am about to wade. The air is buzzing with cold and I can feel the bite of it in my bones. My bladder is urging me to find a tree, so with a sigh I hop to the ground, landing heavily. I will need to work on lightening my step if I am going to be an innocent and harmless creature of the forest today. Only predators have such a heavy step. My vision is blurry with sleep but I find the narrow meandering trail leading into the woods and shuffle along it like a sleepwalker; for a moment I even forget to look for a tree despite my body’s insistence. Somehow through my exhaustion-addled brain, I become vaguely aware of a mysterious sound; someone walking through the brush below me. I hear each crunching step as they make their way through the wood. My hunting partner is probably out here doing the same thing that I am, I think. I quickly decide to turn off my headlamp as he clearly had. I still had the beam of light from the cabin casting a warm glow, reaching for me in the dark through the towering trees. Continuing down the trail with a renewed sense of purpose, I finally find THE tree but as I pause to take in my surroundings, a new curious noise suddenly drew my attention back to the cabin, stopping me dead; whatever sleepiness that still lingered, vanished. My hunting partner was not responsible for the creeping footsteps below me because I could clearly see through my bedroom all the way to the kitchen where he was noisily making coffee. The clatter of the teapot and the hiss of the propane drifted to me on a muted breeze just as there is a sharp crack through the dark as a branch is snapped beneath a heavy footstep. Taking a deep breath, I slowly turn to find a large pair of yellow-green eyes locked on mine; two glowing orbs adrift in an otherwise black forest. The snarl was rumbling and savage and it ripped from somewhere so deep and primal inside me that for a moment I did not know that I was the one who made the sound at all. The rasping growl rolling out of me was choked off abruptly; The luminous eyes remained locked on mine, undeterred and just like that, the boldness of the snarl was snuffed out like a candle flame. I could have sworn the creature even crept closer on suddenly-silent feet. Fumbling in the darkness I flipped my headlamp back on to behold what I already knew was there; the rounded ears and broad russet head of a cat were clearly visible even through the swirling cold fog. The brush was thick between us but I began to back away, not daring to turn my back on the darkness. The beam of light from my lantern glowed with a sense of safety from the cabin doorway. Each step was measured and deliberate as I backed towards it; my heart beat slowed and a blanket of calm settled over me. The haunting green eyes followed me and I tried to imagine the size of the animal behind them. This cat prowls these woods whether I glimpse her or not, whether her heavy step announces her presence or not. With sudden clarity and a grip on my hammering heart like a vice, I glance around until I spot a tree and inch towards it. I sigh with relief but my eyes never leave the cat nor do the cat’s eyes leave me. Somehow I didn’t feel afraid. In those vulnerable moments, I slipped into the tapestry of the forest, woven of shadow and moonlight. I don’t know if what I did was bold or brazen but freedom provokes you in the in between. Wild things are always lurking in the shadows but if you are one of them, it doesn’t make much difference.

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