The Old Hunting Road


The Old Hunting Road

On a balmy spring evening, my daughter and I walked down a red clay road, lined by underbrush and striped down the center with tall grass.  It was an old logging road during a time long passed.  Since its time in service to the forest industry in South Carolina, generations of hunters had worn in its grooves.  Traveling from the cabin to various stand locations and food plots by horse, truck, four-wheeler and foot, the road was defined by experiences.  As I walked its ragged tracks, I could not help but think about all the hunters trafficking the road before me.  Mostly, I thought about the fathers hunting with their children who had travelled this worn path before me.  I wondered if the traffic I thought about also thought about the hunters and their children that walked before them.  I knew they had.  Without those experiences there would have been no road.

It survived because of the traffic that impressed memories into the soul of its clay.  What had these hunters thought as they slowly moved to and from their favorite hunting spots?  Some dreamed of shooting does for food but they all dreamed of shooting bucks for trophies.  I knew.  I had travelled the road many times.

They travelled the road dreaming of a goal or remembering a success.  At some point along its path, imprinted memories of wild game crossed their paths and interrupted their thoughts.  I knew.  This old hunting path wore the memories of hundreds of hunters laying thousands of tracks to their dreams.  It did the same for the game that meandered across its path from time to time.  And, sometimes, the old road made its own memories.

Earlier that sweaty afternoon, my daughter and I had been hunting turkey.  Although we heard the reassuring clucks and putts of several hens and the aggressive gobble of a few Toms, we had no success bringing them to within range or even eyesight of our ground blind.  Sometimes, in turkey hunting just seeing a bird is rewarding success.

While we were scouting earlier in the week we decided to set up at a cross roads where the old dirt road came together with its brother road to form a V.  Rather than walk and stalk, we chose to sit and wait.  We knew turkeys were traveling this fork in the road.  There were tracks everywhere.  Dozens of birds were coming together at this spot, and in the afternoon on this land, the birds are skittish. Their anxiety builds throughout the day and pushes them to roam quietly in open spaces where they cannot be ambushed.  They rarely call or respond to calls.

The old dirt road and its brother came together between a stand of tall hardwoods where turkeys tend to roost and a food plot where they tend to feed in the evenings.  The old road spoke to us silently, “watch my path from the hardwoods come together with my brother’s path form the food plot.  Look down.  See the turkey tracks?  Now, sit and wait patiently.”

My daughter’s eyes followed mine as they traveled from the hardwoods to where we stood and back to the food plot to where we stood.  We both scattered our vision across the scattered tracks surrounding our boots.  We didn’t need to speak.  We knew it would be just a matter of time when these birds would come back down their well-travelled path and bring themselves into our range.  We didn’t need to call them.  The road told us they would come.

After a couple of hours sitting patiently, we whispered convincingly to one another, “they will come.  They’ve been using the road.  They will come.”

“I know, daddy.  They will come.  There are tracks every where,” she said quietly and confidently.

After a time when patience starts fading into uncertainty, our conversation drifted into uncertainty as well.  “I am pretty sure we are in the right spot,” I whispered.

“I think we are too daddy,” my daughter replied in a voice that belied her confidence in what the old road had told us.

“Daddy. Look,” my daughter whispered.

“Finally, a turkey,” I thought as I turned my head slowly in her direction.

As she darted her eyes back and forth from my eyes to her hand, I was too mentally focused on seeing a turkey to notice the black and purple winged butterfly that was resting on her camouflaged glove.

“Do you see a turkey?  I don’t see it,” I whispered as quietly as audible would allow.

“Look,” she whispered just as meekly as she pointed her eyes to her glove.

Then I saw it.  The butterfly was moving its wings slowly up and down like a gymnast adjusting her outstretched arms on a balance beam.  I forgot all about turkeys as I watched with her.  Its wings slowed to a rest vertically as the butterfly settled in on what it must have thought was a leafy branch.  Its incandescent wings glimmered erratically between the hues of every color, shimmering like the thinnest film of oil resting on the calm surface of water.

The hyper instability of its color was the butterfly’s beauty.  With synaptic speed, the slightest shift in the environment altered the silky sheen of its color.  Even the rush of air from our breath brushed its wings through hundreds of shades.  As we watched, I realized the butterfly was not black and purple. It was every color.  I hoped my daughter could hear my thoughts.

“Do you think she can see us,” she asked in an almost inaudible whisper trying desperately not to alarm our guest.

“I don’t think so.  She must think you are a bush.  You look like a bush,” I replied in an equally cautious but more playful hush.

“Look.” She whispered anxiously her eyes darting toward mine seeking acknowledgement.

We both stared at the butterfly as it rolled its tongue out slowly down from its mouth to her fingers and grasped dust-sized yellow pine pollen spores from off her glove.  We watched timelessly, not saying a word, just occasionally looking at one another’s eyes and smiling through our camouflaged meshed masks as the butterfly consumed the pollen one spore at a time.

When the butterfly was full, it stroked its wings downward and then back up slowly as if it were stretching after a big meal.  Then, it flew off.  Flittering, darting and bobbing through the air like an immature oak leaf caught in the wind, we watched it disappear.

“That was so cool,” I said to my daughter as I stood up to leave.  We had seen enough.  Our hunt was over.  Night was drawing near and I knew the turkeys had taken another route to their roosts that night.

“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” she said as she stood up beside me.

“What an experience,” I thought to myself.  Our hunt was successful.  We started walking back to the truck.  It was the time of the evening when the sun was waiting just above the horizon baiting the woods to go to sleep.  As if the woods had not gotten the message, the sky brightened in a pulse for a few seconds with the red edge of it’s spectrum.  The day was exhaling its last breaths and the night was warning the woods of its impending reassuring, peaceful presence.

My daughter was walking next to me scuffing her semi-asleep feet through the dew-thickened grass along the middle of its rutted path.  I was walking along the edge of the matching muddy groove two feet away.  Our camouflage hid us from everything but us.  The anticipation of the night quieted everything in the woods.  Even the crickets and the owls respect the divinity of this brief moment when everyday takes its last sleep filled breaths.  Silently, the old hunting road reliably guided our path home.

It is at these times that life stirs deep thoughts.  On that calm, crisp spring evening, I was not thinking of the owls that serenaded the turkeys to their slumber on their roost or past hunts.  I was not thinking about the day’s hunt or even about our radiant butterfly experience.  I thought of nothing but my daughter walking beside me through the woods along this beaten down old path that so many fathers had walked before with their children.  She was my thoughts.

I was overwhelmed by her presence.  Without looking, I reached down.  She grasped my hand, also without looking, as if she had been waiting for it.  We walked for several more minutes, not saying a word, not looking at one another.  The tall grass of the road between us tickled our locked hands in the quiet darkness of the day’s last breaths, comforting us that it was there beneath our feet carrying us home.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, daddy.”

The old hunting road made another memory.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Ron – Thanks for coming by my blog today and decided to stop by and visit you. I’m not a Dad but a Mom who has taken one of my daughters hunting and also a grandmother who loves to take her grandchildren hunting. It is so rewarding for me and the memories we have shared, I know will last forever.

    I’m also one of the founding members of the Outdoor Bloggers Summit and we would love to have you join us. It is a great group of people who share the great sport of hunting and fishing. When you have time please check us out at: http://outdoorbloggerssummit.com

    Your site is off to a very good start and have enjoyed reading each article. So glad you were brought back to life…not too many people can tell that story. My congrats to your son on harvesting his first buck! That was so a very good story! Look forward to coming back and reading more about your family and hunting. Wishing you the best of luck with your site…you are truly blessed. 🙂

    Reply

    • Thanks for the very nice comments. As you can imagine, I am a very big fan of hunting moms as well. I have two future hunting moms in my house. Part of what I would like to accomplish with my blog is to dilute the impression that hunting is a “boy” activity. You and I know that is far from reality. I am sure that you and I can work together on this effort going forward. I have been to your blog and will continue to visit. You have a very successful site. I hope I get there one day. I am new to blogs, so I look forward to the experience with fellow bloggers like you.

      Reply

  2. What a great story. I have a 9 year old daughter who i took rabbit hunting this year. The experience was great. I gave her the job of snacks. We could have lived for a week on what we carried on my back. It was great though. Walk a while sit and snack and chat a while.
    It’s a great experience getting to do that sort of stuff with your kids. Most people who don’t do it are missing something important and vital. Keep up the good story telling

    Reply

    • Awesome. I am glad you had a great time. In my post about hunting with my son, I mentioned the experience of carrying the pack. I am actually working on a story right now about packing for a hunt with kids. They love the back-pac snack deal as much as the hunt. Thanks for the kind words. You know as well as me how awesome it is to spend Simple Time with your kids outdoors. Keep it up and write a journal. They will remember those times forever.

      Reply

  3. You should have this stuff published. What an amazing story, and what an amazing moment. That is what is so great about nature, you just never know what can happen; and to have the kids involved in those moments is what it is all about.

    I can’t wait to get home and see my daughter, and I can’t wait to share some outdoor time with her in the near future.

    Keep writing, because I’m going to keep coming back.

    Reply

    • Thanks for the nice comments. I am working on a book about hunting with children. It’s full of stories like this one. I’ll keep posting them, and I hope you keep coming back. Enjoy the time with your daughter in the outdoors. There is nothing like it. In today’s World of cell phones, tv’s, computers, email, internet, video games, I have found the only way to really engage (both for me and them) is to wrap ourselves around the dynamic glory of the outdoors. One way or another, everything in our lives outside of nature is programmed. We live a life of “if/ then” clauses, except when we are in the wild where things just happen, experiences abound and memories blossom.

      Reply

  4. My Goodness! that is wonderful writing and brought a tear as I remembered the moments spent in exactly the same way with my children. They grow up too fast.
    Love your blog, keep writing.
    Rex

    Reply

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. They may grow up fast, but my memories of them in the wilderness are ageless, as I imagine yours are as well. I’ll keep sharing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Mike Holmes on February 9, 2010 at 2:22 am

    I look forward to your and your childrens companionship for years to come and I am so glad your PH friend brought us together. If you really think about it,there is not much we don’t have in common, great wives and children, cooking and eating together,bow and gun hunting, fishing, incredible love for our children,our children are also our friends, we don’t mind sharing a little info with others, both have died with heart attacks and along with many other common denominators, both are jobless.I’m glad you are still around and always remember this when thinking about wheather to go outdoorsing with your family,friends or alone and concerned about the results it will produce,” if you don’t go you won’t know and if you did know you might not go and if you didn’t go you would never know and then you couldn’t tell who you knew what you now know when you didn’t go. ”
    I know I’ll see you soon
    Your Friend,
    Mike

    Reply

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