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Father’s Day – The Gift My Father Gave Me

June 15, 2014

Things change.

The long leaf pines don’t seem as tall as they did almost 50 years ago, towering over the sandy, southeastern North Carolina soil.  The woods aren’t as thick as they were then either.  Houses and highways have grown up faster than the trees.  The paper companies, ravenous for pulpwood, have mowed the long leafs down and replaced them with fast-growing loblollies.  The only big hardwoods left are deep in the swamp, or scattered through city and town parks.  Tobacco and sweet potato fields are subdivisions and strip malls.  The place I try to remember isn’t at all like I remember it.

But the squirrels… grey, bushy-tailed, and lightning quick… they’re still there like always.  That hasn’t changed much since I used do my best to quietly follow my dad over the sandy ground in his quest to add a few squirrels to the stew pot.  Those are memories I cherish.

Of course, the haze of almost a half-century makes it sort of hard now to pick out the real memories from dreams and stories.  Like many kids, my early childhood was a wild mishmash of fantasy and real-life adventure in and around those North Carolina pine forests, the swamps and pocosin, and the waterways.  Untethered by TV or computer, my memories were mostly formed outdoors, but when I look back now, imagination struggles to fill the gaps.

Did I really sneak a cap pistol along on a squirrel hunt, convinced that if a bushytail would just come close enough, I could kill it and add it to the bloodstained pouch of my dad’s old, canvas game vest?  I seem to remember something like this, even to the moment when, after sitting dead still for what seemed like hours, impatience got the better of me and I tried a “long shot”.  I even think I recall my dad being kind of mad, as the squirrels scattered at the noise, robbing him of his opportunity.  Maybe it happened like that, or maybe it didn’t.  All I know is that it could have happened, because that’s what kids do.

Squirrel hunting requires stealth and stillness… traits not typically found in a four or five year-old boy.  I must have really frustrated my dad, because when I look back at those memories, I have come to believe that he treasured the quiet moments in the woods more than he did the opportunity to bag game.  And quiet just didn’t seem to be part of my nature.

But he kept taking me.  I’m sure there are times he didn’t really want to.  Who needs a wriggling, chatterbox kid along when you just want to hunt?  Looking back at it from my grown-up perspective, I realize that he must have sought the woods as a respite from the noise of everyday life… including me.  But almost any time I asked, he took me along.  Sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask.

Over time, I eventually started to catch on.

Daddy taught me the magic of sitting still… of leaning back against a tree trunk and letting myself become part of the landscape.  He showed me that a whole world of things happens in the woods when nothing knows you’re there.

He also taught me that patience is the most powerful tool in a hunter’s kit. The ability to wait it out, to sit without becoming discouraged… sometimes that’s more important than marksmanship.  If the squirrels were there when you walked in, they’ll be back when they think you’ve walked out.  You just have to be able to wait longer than they do.  (There’s a life lesson to be learned there too, if you’re not careful.)

Finally, he taught me to appreciate all those things that happen when you’re not shooting. Through his example, I learned how to just take it all in… the interactions of the birds, the smell of the woods at different times of the year, the sounds that you never hear unless you shut up and listen.

And that last lesson tied the others together.  Don’t be still for the squirrel that you can’t see.  Be still so you don’t interrupt the finch, picking out the pine nut on the branch just above your head.  If you stay quiet, you can watch that fox hunt the field mouse, and maybe a deer will come out too.  I found out that it’s easy to be patient if you can enjoy what you’ve got, rather than worrying about what you’re waiting for.

In short, Daddy gave me everything I needed to become a good hunter.  Even after years of study and experience, and despite the things I’ve learned from books and from experts, those basic lessons are the ones that still mean the most.  I know a lot now about guns and ammunition, and a fair bit about wildlife biology.  I’ve become a reasonable tracker, and a decent marksman.  I can skin and butcher and cook what I kill.  I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty competent.

But without those basic lessons, I’m not sure any of it would mean a thing.

Be still.

Be patient.

Feel the wonder.

That’s the gift my father gave me.

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Father’s Day – The Gift My Father Gave Me”

  1. Father’s Day – The Gift My Father Gave Me | AllHunt.com on June 15th, 2014 15:20

    […] Father’s Day – The Gift My Father Gave Me […]

  2. David on June 16th, 2014 09:51

    Perfectly written.

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