Auld Lang Syne

January 2, 2018

By the time this goes live, the 2017 Holiday Season will, mostly, be a memory.

For a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons, the holidays can be a tough time.  Depression seems to be about as common as joy, especially after the crescendo of Christmas Eve.  The parties are over.  Family members and loved ones go back to their far away lives.  The decorations come down.  The short, winter days offer too little brightness.

I feel it myself, with each ornament I take off the tree, and with each discarded fragment of gift wrapping I pick up from the floor.  After the build-up and then the catharsis of the actual celebration, it’s hard not to feel a little drained… a little down.

In my case, the wrap-up of the holidays comes with another downer.  Traditionally, in this part of NC, whitetail deer season shuts down on New Year’s Day.  I recognize what a blessing we have here, with a season that (including archery) begins the second week of September and runs through December.  That’s a lot of opportunity to hunt.  At the same time, the closer always seems to come too soon, and with it comes a sense of sublime melancholy.  I try to never miss it.

This year, since I had some more important things to do on New Year’s Day, I ended my season in the stand on Saturday.  My freezer is in good shape, with plenty of venison, but one more couldn’t hurt.  More important to me, though, I think, was just to be out there and squeeze as much out of the season as I could get.

I left the rifle in the safe, and carried the crossbow.  If I got a good, close opportunity on an old doe or a big buck, I’d probably take it.  Otherwise, I’d just enjoy the sunset and meditate on the peace of the winter woods.  I’d watch the squirrels busily gathering, and the little fox that recently started hunting them here.  I’d jump at the sudden rustle of dry leaves as a bushy-tail or a thrasher dug for some dinner.  I’d still tense at the crack of a twig, and then grin at myself when it was revealed to be a scarlet cardinal, brilliant in his winter plumage, hopping through low branches.  I’d still be hunting, although with very little intention of killing anything.

I sat until it was too dark to see across the 40 yard clearing, and then climbed down one last time for the year.  On the walk out, the waxing winter moon shone brightly through the naked tree limbs, lighting the trail in that weird, white light.  It was bright enough to cast shadows, still two days shy of full, and I left my headlamp in my pocket.  The temperature was plunging, and I snuggled into my old, fleece jacket (older than my 28 year-old daughter, I realized), pulling the collar up around my neck.

I walked through memories of past seasons and similar hikes, my mind flicking from the recent to the faded distance.  My mind flickered back to a closing day in California’s B-zone, hiking slowly back to the trailhead to find a forked-horn buck happily browsing at the edge of a clearing, less than 100 yards from the truck.  He was too startled to run, and I was too startled to unsling my rifle, so we stood startled together, and stared at one another until he finally turned and strolled nonchalantly back into the manzanita.

I thought of a closing day walk with my dad.  My feet prickled with pins and needles from the cold, as I minced my steps to stay in his footprints over the semi-frozen, swampy ground.  I flash over a vivid image of the skim ice crackling over the puddles we’d splashed through on the way in.  I paused for a moment on the realization of how many of those childhood hunts with my dad included painfully cold feet.

My memories rambled over closing days of a different sort… my last California hunt in the place I called, “Kokopelli Valley,” before I moved to “Hillside Manor,” inTexas… the closer of the last deer season before I left Texas, only three years later.  I’m reminded of discussions from college literature classes, about the power of Place, and I think of the imprint Kokopelli Valley and Hillside Manor have made on me.  That leads me to think about the imprints all of my favorite hunting places have left on my life… my secret little spot in Holly Shelter Game Land (NC), or my favorite patch of tules in Mendota Wildlife Refuge (CA), or the aspen-covered ridge in the Uncompahgre National Forest (CO), or any of a dozen other places around the country.

The amble down Memory Lane would have continued, I suppose, but the treestand isn’t that far from the house.  Iggy greeted me at the gate, reminding me that he loved me, but he was hungry.  I still had horses to feed and water lines to insulate before the forecast cold snap set in.

Deer season was over.  The Holiday Season was over.  The year was over.  It was time to settle in and prepare for 2018.

I don’t know what this year will bring.  There are plans, of course, and ideas.  But life is tumultuous, and change is damned near constant.  I’ll admit, I’m not starting 2018 with an abundance of confidence.  There’s still a lot of work to do to get to where I’d like to be.  But that work, in itself, is something to look forward to.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope it’s the best it can be.




One Response to “Auld Lang Syne”

  1. Auld Lang Syne | on January 2nd, 2018 13:23

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