Editor's Note: It’s that time of year when hunters dig out the camo and blaze orange and talk turns to the deer hunting season. Writer Ron Davis is an avid bow hunter but he sometimes wonders what drives him to the woods year after year.
What am I doing here?
It’s a question I seem to be asking myself more and more frequently as I creep into my 60s, but never more than when I’m sitting 20 feet above the forest floor on a cool, damp morning with a compound bow in my hands.
My question seems to be echoed by a little hermit thrush that flits in to perch on a branch not three feet away. Its obsidian eye studies me carefully. Outfitted in camo and face paint, I’ve been shivering here since dawn on the unlikely possibility that a deer will wander through.
The clearing I watch over is rimmed with maples, oaks, birches and ash. Since I hunt on the north side of a ridge, they grow straight and tall, their limbs spanning the little clearing like arches in a cathedral. The forest is still lush with greenery, but the ash leaves have begun fading to yellow, some of the maples tipped scarlet and amber. In another month the limbs will be bare, and as a breeze rustles through, I realize its sound is somehow ominously different.
Down on the township road, a school bus rumbles by, soon followed by two cars. People are going to work, coffee is flowing at the Crystal Café. What am I doing here?
A kestrel soundlessly swoops through the clearing not a foot off the ground, perhaps trying to panic a chipmunk or chickadee into making a fatal mistake. Once it’s gone, the chipmunks eventually resume their fall chant, a kind of monotonous sucking sound, which allegedly gave them their Native American name.
When you’re bowhunting, the idea is to become part of the woods. Become a tree, become a rock, movement is your enemy. My back aches, my arm’s going to sleep, and a gnat is crawling across my forehead.
It rained last night and my butt feels damp. What am I doing here?
A barred owl off in a stand of oaks to the west gives solitary hoot, as if to say, “Good night.” A pair of Sandhills exchange a few tentative squawks. Crows caw to each other, miles apart. Geese are overhead.
No deer steals through my little clearing, but I think about the familiar ritual that might begin if one did. The adrenaline, the racing heartbeat, the shot, the tracking, followed by the field dressing, the dragging, and butchering, all on my own now that my son is no longer around to help. We don’t really need the venison, and I have a feeling that, pound for pound, hamburger is cheaper.
So what am I doing here? Venison medallions sautéed in butter and onions, a little red wine, spicy venison sausage for the Packer games. There’s something about knowing the story of your meat.
As Joni Mitchell sang once, both the Wisconsin woods and I are “captives on a carousel of time.” But for an hour or two the turning slows. There is time to focus, time to make memory. What am I doing here? Where else should I be?
Editor's Note: Ron Davis teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.