Fifteen feet up a tree at the edge of a woodland, meadow to the north, west and east, deep woods to the south, I balanced the bow on a safety bar and sought to remain still. A mass of wild grape vine shaded me. The tree blocked my view to the east along a trail on the meadow’s edge. To look back required a choreography of small movements — inch my boots into place to make possible the swivel; slowly slowly twist my back and neck to look past the tree’s bulk and then repeat the same to come back. Then wait in shadow for something to come this way.
The soundscape is a challenge. This valley acts as a long conduit to traffic noise from major highways. The low roar of tires on concrete is constant and interspersed with jagged crescendos of motorcycles and muscle cars letting loose their throttles. The barking of dogs falls downslope to my spot.
Nothing moved in the grass to my northern 180 degrees, but in the woods, titmice and chickadees called; one gray squirrel, unaware of my eyes upon him, flowed along the leaves. Then sounds of something larger moving deeper in the hollow, shielded by brush and small trees — one stops everything else inside his chaotic thoughts and listens and watches for motion. You become a pair of eyes and ears. For longer than I would have bet, the mind really does empty.
Two doe, large and small, break from invisibility and hitch and dodge their way very fast 40 yards away along the creek, in and out of sight, too far and too fast to do anything other than watch them, my eyes alone following their break.
I carry no book in my small knapsack — only water, a knife, my hunting license, the cord to restring the bow, a tiny notebook and pen and binoculars. My phone is set to vibrate. My friend, 400 yards away, will call if he needs a hand. I will do the same. It has been decades since I settled in one spot and felt time move with the motion of the sun, and the only action — to watch the skein of the three-dimensional world ripple around my alert quiet. It is wonderful.
The sun itself has long vanished under the opposite ridge line, but I can see well enough to begin the painstaking maneuvers involved in packing up to descend and leave. The first step of that process — I had my hand on the bolt ready to remove it from the flight groove, but there he was, 45 yards to the west, upslope, grazing towards me, suddenly suddenly, a heavy buck whose antlers rose like ellipses.
When he raised his head, I was full in his view. To freeze does not accurately describe my inaction. One’s body rests in an exquisite glaze of concentration and immobility. The air had been dropping downhill since sunset, toward me. He neither saw nor smelled me. He ambled back and forth, coming closer — 40, 35, 25 yards, face on, sometimes 1/4 profile, but heading for me. He hit a point where leaves and branches on the tree next to mine hid us from each other’s sight. I rose, my spine unbending like a hand opening slowly from a fist, bringing the bow up to my shoulder, hands setting themselves on barrel and trigger guard, bracing against the tree, feet finding their security against a steel truss, eye on the scope aligning the red dots. For the first time I click off the safety and hold my position.
For minutes –6, 7, 10, he does not appear. He does not enter the woods. He should have emerged 15 yards away moving east, coming under me, the sweet spot behind the shoulder coming into view, his normal pauses, head coming up and turning — I visualize all of it. He never appears. He is gone without any sound as if he has faded into the earth. In the darkness, I pack, lower the bow to the ground, descend the ladder and step out into the grass. I am the only creature moving across the long stretch of the field.